New Street Lights for Cambridgeshire to Dim in the Early Hours

Friday, January 23rd, 2009. 2:35am

Bright white street lights in Redbridge UK

At North Cambridge’s Area Committee on Thursday the 23rd of January 2009 a member of the public asked about street lighting. Rupert Moss-Eccardt the County Councillor for Arbury replied. He told the meting that there is a program in Cambridgeshire to introduce brighter lights which use less electricity than the current street lights. He said that these new lights would be dimmed in the early hours of the morning, but gave an assurance that the new dim level of light will be brighter than what we currently have.

The details of the Cambridgeshire scheme were not given, but a before and after photograph on this page shows the results which have been seen in Redbridge, UK using a system from Phillips. While I think the dimming will need to be used carefully, overall I think these new types of lights are a fantastic improvement on what we currently have in the county.

I think the green spaces in Cambridge, many of which are very poorly lit at the moment, would benefit from these new bright lights. Crime and fear of crime are expected to be reduced by the new scheme, and road safety ought be improved.

44,000 out of Cambridgeshire’s 55,000 street lights are to be replaced in the £57,000,000 project. That’s £1,295 per light (1).

Cambridgeshire county council are not paying for the scheme now, it is to be built using borrowed money from the private sector under a “PFI” contract – which means in the long term we will all be paying over the odds for the scheme, as we’re have to pay both for the lights and provide the private companies with their profits. Central government provides significant incentives to local authorities to make them rationalise such reckless behaviour; from the point of view of the local authority, because the PFI schemes attract additional government funding they are the economically the best option.

Cambridgeshire’s contract has been negotiated together with Northamptonshire which, unlike Cambridgeshire, hosts detailed information on the Eastern Shire Counties Partnership – Street Lighting PFI Project. This states that the scheme is a twenty five year project, to start in April 2010, and says:

The PFI contract will allow the County Council to consider ways to save energy, including:

  • using lower wattage bulbs that provide more efficient ‘white light’,
  • using the minimum appropriate lighting level,
  • varying lighting levels through the night,
  • adjusting the times at which the lights switch on and off.

If there is a problem with light shining through a bedroom window for instance, then the specific street light can be fitted with a filter to cut out light in that specific direction.

Cllr Moss-Eccardt also talked of problems of birds singing during the night if the lights were left on bright, presumably sharing a concern which had been discussed by County Councillors.

The results of Derby’s Street light PFI project can be seen here.

12 comments/updates on “New Street Lights for Cambridgeshire to Dim in the Early Hours

  1. Anthony Emberson

    This is a nightmare – this is going to have a massive negative effect on nocturnal animals. It is supposed to be dark at night.

    Those up to no good will actually have a easier time of it, they will be able to see what they are doing and lights like these will create light areas and very dark shadow areas that they can hide in.

    Also think of the astronomers – this will be the end of astronomy in the UK.

    Ant (Essex/Peterborough)

  2. James Blundell

    Ugh What an awful idea, how is anyone supposed to sleep near such bright lights. And this isn’t just a loss for astronomers its also a loss for anyone who wants to look up and see the stars.

  3. Lews

    “Poorly lit”? It’s the night! It’s meant to be dark! What a waste of money. Why pay £57m on new lights when you can save money and energy by, for example, dimming or turning off the existing lights after midnight.

  4. Richard Taylor Article author


    These new lights, and the new contract, are designed allow things like dimming or turning off lights; they also save energy.

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    At Cambridgeshire County Council’s Full Council on the 7th of December 2010 the Council Cabinet member responsible, Conservative Cllr McGuire, was asked about the costs of the new street-light Private Finance Initiative.

    Cllr McGuire replied: “I’ve had figures thrown at me but they differ; I’ll come back when I’ve established it”.

  6. john

    Most children (and adults) in the UK have never seen the Milkyway because of existing street lighting. With these super bright white lights they will only be able to see a handful of the brightest stars. It was the view of the night sky that spurred me any many others to take up science/engineering as a career. Sodium and mercury lamps can be filtered out by astronomers, LED lights can not.

  7. J Goold

    Please can you tell me the actual power used for each of the orange colour lights that are used in St. Neots?
    What is the power consumption of the new whiter lights and can they be dimmed or switched off and then by who.
    How much is saved by using one of these white lights on an hourly base.
    Look forward to a reply

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      I don’t know the answers to those questions; but they’re the kind of thing which could perhaps be obtained from Cambridgeshire County Council via a FOI request.

      A 2010 FOI response gave the “before” statistics:

      Number of County Council Street Lights = 55221
      Average Lamp Wattage = 52.67watts
      Annual estimate Energy Cost for 2010/11 = £1.4m
      Annual estimate Maintenance Cost for 2010/11 = £2.5m

      Cambridgeshire County Council publish specifications for street-lighting on new developments which reveals the control system they specify is one made by Telsna:

      We know the project states:

      That doesn’t let us estimate the power consumption of the new lights though; as there may be fewer new lights and they may be dimmed, or off.

      The detailed plans do show that various lights are being installed, generally 36W units, in most places; but with 150w units on, for example Needingworth Bypass.

      As for savings, the council have stated:

      The existing lighting network costs more than £3.2 million to maintain and light the new network and its operation is expected to save around £350,000 annually

      Streetlights are not metered and the PFI deal means the council benefits only indirectly from the savings; in the early years the PFI contractor are presumably putting money into the scheme in the expectation of profiting later from running the more efficient service.

      The contractor has described it as a 25 year, £203 million, contract into which it will invest equity of approximately £5 million.

      So the council are expecting to pay £2,850,000 per year which over 25 years is £71,250,000. Presumably there’s some model of inflation which takes that value to the £203 million over the 25 year period; and the £203 million is not based at today’s value of the pound?

      So I think the key questions remaining is:

      • What are the policies and procedures for changing control settings of the lights eg. on / off times, brightness etc?

      An FOI request could request the location of the control centre (but it’s probably a server somewhere that authorised people can login to to make changes from their computers and perhaps even mobile phones so it’s location won’t be important) it’s the policy and process surrounding the authorisation for, and making of changes, to the settings that’s key.

      An FOI request which could release the interesting information could be phrased as:

      Please could you release the:

      1. Current, and planned, locations for the Central System Servers for controlling Cambridgeshire’s streetlights.
      2. Policies relating to setting, and changing, the programming of Cambridgeshire’s streetlights (on/off times, dimming etc.)

      If anyone makes such a request do link to it from the comments here.

      It may be the PFI contract needs to be investigated itself; an FOI request could attempt to get that; but visiting the council during the open period for the accounts might prove more fruitful and provide access to unredacted material.

      I wonder if councillors have retained control over when the lights come on and off and how dim they are or if that’s been handed over to the private contractor?

  8. Tim Ward

    These are general comments about the capabilities of the system, not implementation detail specific to Cambridgeshire.

    The “server somewhere” could be anything from a specific piece of hardware in someone’s NOC to a VM floating around a hosting company’s data centres. It really doesn’t matter much what it is or where it is. Servers can be and are moved, eg as IT outsourcing arrangements change.

    The policies will, I’m sure, in all cases be set by the council. In the case of the lighting system being run by a PFI contractor there will be an SLA, originally agreed to by the council and thus originally meeting their policy requirements, which can be renegotiated to meet any desired change of policy beyond any built-in flexibility.

    Emergency services can also have a tactical input, eg if lights are usually off in the early hours in a particular location but the police want them on on a particular night then this can be arranged.

    New lighting systems, btw, are generally better at directly their light downwards rather than wasting it lighting up outer space, and are thus better for astronomers (to go back to a very early comment).

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