Street Lighting

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th December 1957.

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7.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Moyle Mr Arthur Moyle , Oldbury and Halesowen

The subject on which I want to make a few observations this evening is that of street lighting, and in using the words "street lighting" I include the whole of the lighting of our traffic routes. I want to draw the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's attention not only to the lack of uniformity in our lighting installations throughout the country but also to the deplorable lack of tidy administration and organisation in the lighting authorities. More particularly, I want to emphasise the lack of the finance which is so necessary to carry out the lighting of our roads. Further, I want to draw the Ministry's attention to the growing recognition by the experts of the fact that the lack of uniform and continuous lighting along our main roads is one of the major causes of road accidents.

I know that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary and the Ministry are aware of the importance of this subject, but I cannot understand the lack of progress which there has been in face of the amazing technical progress in lighting. I do not know why the community has not had transferred to it for its benefit the results of the technical progress which has been made, particularly in recent years. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give some reassuring information that will encourage local authorities and give heart to road users—not only motorists, but cyclists and pedestrians, also.

It is astonishing that in England and Wales there are no fewer than 3,200 different lighting authorities. If, in addition, the parish councils—the whole 5,000 of them in England and Wales—were to take the Minister of Housing and Local Government at his word of independence for local authorities which he expressed frequently in the recent debate on the Local Government Bill, and decided to exercise their lighting powers—they can, if they wish, become the lighting authorities for their own areas—there would be more than 8,000 different lighting authorities. One has only to reflect upon these naked facts to understand what an astonishing mess there would be.

There is no legal obligation upon any of those authorities to consult or to act as good neighbours. Where good neighbourliness exists in the lighting of urban areas and main roads, it is entirely voluntary. In the absence of it, each authority goes its own way.

My constituency is contiguous to Smethwick. Smethwick is a county borough in Stafford. Within a radius of 12 miles of Smethwick, there are no fewer than 86 different lighting authorities, plus four county councils. It is true that the county councils, although not lighting authorities, are empowered to make grants towards the lighting within their own county area for schemes which are approved, but the fact is that county councils never do this—at least, I have not heard that they do. This power is not used and is simply a dead letter.

Speeding through the night, as I have often done by car, along the main trunk road known as the Birmingham—Wolverhampton New Road, one is met by highly variegated lighting. As the Birmingham Post said the other day, when aptly describing experience of the motorists along that road, Motorists who have to pass from the amber flood of sodium flare lighting into the glare of the mercury vapour system and then perhaps into the comparative darkness of an area equipped with insufficient of the ordinary electric lights, all sometimes along the same stretch of road, know only too well how great a strain it is to drive at night in this country. What is typical of that famous trunk road between Birmingham and Wolverhampton is typical of the country as a whole.

To encourage the Parliamentary Secretary, I will, however, say that recently we have had some new lighting installations along the London to Dover road, which I often use on my way home from the House. There is a new beacon light overlooking the new roundabout at Faring-ham, Kent. I hope that this pilot scheme will be developed throughout the country. It is a great boon and has been a factor in reducing accidents in that area.

With a view to getting rid of the chaos in the administration and organisation of road lighting, I make this suggestion to the Parliamentary Secretary, which, I think, could be adopted without incurring the need for legislation. Why not take the initiative and seek to establish joint standing committees of neighbouring local authorities, particularly in the conurbation areas, so that their representatives could meet and discuss lighting as a common interest and report back to their respective authorities for the purpose of securing the widest possible uniformity in new lighting installations?

That would not in any way interfere with the existing powers and responsibilities of local authorities. It is a well-established practice in other directions and I cannot understand why the Minister has not shown a greater readiness to try to secure, in co-operation with local authorities, such a system of joint standing committees concerned with road lighting.

The other matter to which I wish to refer is the question of grants. In 1955 and 1956, I understand, the total amount spent by local authorities on lighting was about f12 million a year, whereas the total contribution from the Ministry of Transport via the Treasury was not more than £133,000. That is an astonishing situation. Local authorities are quite right in saying that it is utterly unreasonable that their ratepayers should be saddled with the cost of lighting installations, which are part of a national service and should be grant aided as well as rate-borne.

This is a matter which should receive the serious consideration of the Ministry of Transport. In the case, for example, of lighting installations approved by the Minister—that is, lighting which conforms with the practice recognised by the Departmental experts—why not rank them as part of road improvement schemes so that they qualify for the appropriate grant as if they were road improvement schemes?

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

I do not wish unnecessarily to interrupt the hon. Member's interesting speech, but I must make the point that to do as he suggests would require legislation. My right hon. Friend has no power to make grants for lighting purposes except for trunk roads. His power to grant aid for classified roads is limited only to road building.

Photo of Mr Arthur Moyle Mr Arthur Moyle , Oldbury and Halesowen

I accept that. I was not aware of that limitation. I thought that it would have been possible without legislation. May I say, however, to the Parliamentary Secretary that there is no reason at all why the lighting installations on trunk roads should not rank for 100 per cent. grant as is the case with road improvements. In view of what the Minister has said, with which I take it you agree, Mr. Speaker, otherwise you would have dissented, may I say, on the question of grant, without in any way incurring the possibility of being out of order, that there is a very close link between the standard of lighting on our roads and the rate of road accidents.

I want to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend to the excellent paper which was recently delivered to the Institute of Highway Engineers by Mr. Granville Berry, the Coventry city engineer and surveyor. In this paper, which was delivered on Friday, 1st November to the Institute of Highway Engineers, he analysed the investigations of the Road Laboratory Research Committee. It is stated that, as a result of the installation of lighting standards that were adequate to the needs on eight main trunk roads within the County of London, there was a reduction of between 20 per cent. and 30 per cent. in the road accident rate.

I am advised that Northampton borough, which was the first authority to institute a complete scheme of fluorescent lighting in its area, achieved a reduction in road accidents by 30 per cent. compared with those before the installations were made. In the United States, 14 States claim—this is in the paper—that, as a result of improved lighting along their main roads, the accident rate was reduced by 60 per cent. A similar reduction has taken place on the main trunk roads in Paris. These are the results of the investigations of the Road Laboratory Research Committee.

The Committee also makes the very interesting analysis which one might regard as the economics of lighting, that it estimates that in one year the cost of road accidents to the nation is about £170 million and that the cost of a road fatality is about £500. If, for example, we had adequate lighting installations along our main roads, within the urban areas alone the estimated cost would be not more than £5 million a year and the saving resulting from the reduction of road accidents would more than cover the cost of such lighting installations along our main traffic roads.

May I say to the Parliamentary Secretary that I hope, first, that something will be done to try to import some order of administration and organisation into the provision of adequate lighting, secondly, that something will be done to co-ordinate the activities of the local authorities through the medium of a joint standing committee and, thirdly, that something will be done about the financial aspect of the matter.

I cannot imagine a greater opportunity of proving beyond any doubt the sincerity of the Minister of Transport, when he tells the House how deeply he deplores the increasing rate of road accidents in this country, then by his recognition of these needed reforms. If he embraces these proposals to seek to secure uniform standards of lighting along our main roads and continuous lighting during the night, which would be of great benefit to all, particularly those heavy vehicle drivers who use the roads much more frequently now than in other days, it would be gratefully received by motorists, cyclists and every pedestrian, young and old, in the land.

7.46 p.m.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) on raising this issue and also on the very skilful way in which for a long time he skated on thin ice. So dexterous a performance hardly merited the way the Parliamentary Secretary in the end cracked the ice from beneath his feet.

This is a very important matter. I should like to know how far experiments are now being carried on. During the six years that I was chairman of the London and Home Counties Joint Electricity Authority, I had many consultations with the General Electric Company, which was prepared, when one was faced with a scheme for lighting a road, to have small models made of the roads, with the curves and gradients showing, and then to arrange a model lighting set on it, so that one could see exactly the effect that would result from the adoption of a lighting scheme and where on curves and in other awkward spots one could get the best effect from the scheme. Are these experiments now being carried on? Have the Government done anything to maintain and encourage them and is there any body of people whose advice is at the disposal of the lighting authorities and highway authorities when these schemes have to be considered?

There are still too many roads on which one finds in what is supposed to be lighted areas pools of darkness which are very baffling indeed both to the motorist and the pedestrian. The General Electric Company would even supply with the model black cats which it placed on spots that were likely to be pools of darkness and it was very interesting to find how easy it was on the model to lose the cat when it moved from a well lighted area into one of these pools of blackness.

The Ministry has a very great responsibility in this matter and I heartily support the suggestion of my hon. Friend that efforts should be made to establish voluntary standing joint committees—much as I dislike the word in its police connotation—to deal with the tracts of road which pass through the areas of a good many local authorities and present great difficulty to the road user, whether motorist, cyclist or pedestrian.

It is not unusual to find roads other than trunk roads—I have no doubt that in his own constituency the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can think of examples—which pass for some distance through the boundaries of parishes. The result is that, in going five or six miles along such a road, one passes in and out of two or three parishes, each with a different policy in regard to lighting. That is the sort of place where co-ordination of the kind suggested by my hon. Friend would be of very considerable benefit.

The avoidable casualties on the roads are so heavy that anything which can be done to make it possible for motorists and pedestrians to avoid difficulty and danger should be done. It is no good trying to apportion the blame between one and the other. An accident occurs. Life is lost. Limbs are damaged. Productive labour is lost because a man or woman who could take an active part in industry is temporarily laid off. The estimates which my hon. Friend gave of the loss we incur through these accidents are probably under-estimates rather than over-estimates. I hope that the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us tonight that his Ministry is fully alive to the importance of the issues raised and that he and his Department are doing what they can, within the limits imposed upon them by the existing law, to see that a better state of affairs is brought into existence.

7.53 p.m.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

I did not intervene in the speech of the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen (Mr. Moyle) in order to throw him out of his stride; in any event, he rapidly got back into his stride again, on a thicker bit of ice, and managed to make the same point. I intervened only because it would be impossible for me to follow him, for I did not doubt that I should have been quickly pulled up. I appreciate the concluding remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), suggesting that I address myself to the problem within the existing law, although there might be many suggestions which could be made in other circumstances, when tackling the matter in a different way.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen on giving the House an interesting and constructive speech on what is, I entirely agree, a matter of very great national importance. As the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, one does find pools of darkness along the roadway as one drives about the country; they are most disconcerting and undoubtedly, on occasion, lead to greater danger on the road. I do not dispute the general impression that Mr. Granville Berry gave in his very interesting paper to which the hon. Gentleman referred; there is no doubt that conditions would be much improved if we could follow the line which he advocated.

I must now address myself to what we can do within the present limitations. For the information of the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen, I should like to explain why I was not able to give him a very informative answer to a Question of his about consultations we had had. I feel that it will be of interest to him if I now say that, with the aim of solving or at any rate improving the situation, we have had consultations in recent months with local authority organisations. Those consultations were, however, directed to a re-allocation of existing grants rather than to any shifting of responsibilities and powers. Those consultations concluded by a conference taken by my right hon. Friend at the beginning of July, but unfortunately there was not a sufficient measure of agreement amongst the various local authority organisations for any action to follow from it. I mention this to show that we share in the hon. Gentleman's concern to do something to improve the situation, and we are only sorry that that proved to be a dead end. We shall try again.

In opening, I should like to say a word about how it is that we should have such an astonishing number of lighting authorities. Of course, as Mr. Granville Berry points out, the history of lighting legislation began in the last century when street lighting was provided not for motor traffic, which did not then exist, but primarily for local purposes, for instance, keeping public order, deterring robbery and assault, and for the convenience of pedestrians to save them from falling into potholes or tumbling over obstacles which might be in the road. It has only been gradually since, I suppose, the end of the First World War that motor traffic has rapidly increased so that on a number of roads, but not by any means on all, through motor traffic and the accompanying road safety considerations have now grown to dominate the purely local factors. There are, however, still a great many roads where local factors continue to matter most, for instance, in rural areas and in most country villages where the volume of motor traffic is too small—I hope it will continue to be too small—and infrequent to justify street lighting for purely traffic purposes.

Photo of Mr Arthur Moyle Mr Arthur Moyle , Oldbury and Halesowen

I have in mind, of course, the classified roads, A, B and C.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

Yes, but there still are very many, I am glad to say, in parishes and rural villages where street lighting for traffic purposes would not be justified.

A parish council, when considering street lighting for the convenience of local inhabitants approaching the village centre or the church, weighs these matters very seriously indeed, because the cost falls entirely upon the rates and the parishioners do not take very easily to an additional burden unless they think it is for their general benefit. There will, I think, continue to be very many parts of the country where local factors remain of paramount interest, although there are of course, some parishes traversed by important Class 1 or Class 2 roads where traffic considerations will predominate.

At the other end of the scale is the trunk road. There, my right hon. Friend has power to make a contribution, and he does make contributions up to 50 per cent. of the cost to the lighting authorities concerned. In between—and this is the real problem—there are very many classified roads in urban and semi-urban areas, such as those which have been referred to by the hon. Member for Oldbury and Halesowen and the right hon. Member for South Shields, where the problem described undoubtedly exists and is a serious matter. In such areas, the local authorities are the lighting authorities, and they are responsible for 100 per cent. of the cost.

I should add just one more point on local considerations, and that is about the question of amenity. I should think that local authorities would probably wish to continue to have control of this. There are often sharp conflicts of opinion on amenity considerations. The lighting standards which carry modern lanterns are extremely effective in providing a high standard of light, but even the most kindly would not call them things of beauty. When, by chance, they are erected against, perhaps, a background of some Georgian houses on the road frontage they are likely to cause a good deal of dissention among some of the local inhabitants.

We have taken the view that the reconciliation of this issue is essentially a matter for the local people through their elected representatives on the local council. On either side there are strong and good arguments. On the one side is the preservation of the aesthetic beauty of the elevation of, say, the houses. On the other side is the promotion of safer traffic and road safety for pedestrians and so on. Consequently, we have said that this is essentially a matter for the local authorities to decide, but we are always ready to give advice, and very frequently lighting authorities consult us. In respect of trunk roads, where we have a direct responsibility, we always inform the Royal Fine Art Commission, and if it thinks that important architectural features are involved, it can investigate the matter and offer a view, if it so wishes.

It is understandable that in the light of this history we should have grown up with this immense variability of lighting standards which one sees about the country. I suppose that we should accept that on a country road it is reasonable that one should rely upon one's headlamps. Conversely, one would expect that in urban areas one could rely upon the street lamps, and one would hope that they would be of uniform standards. However, as the hon. Member rightly said, they are very far from it. They vary from good through indifferent to bad.

There is no doubt that when the driver of a vehicle, either a commercial vehicle—as the hon. Member rightly said, many commercial vehicles are driven through the night—or a private car leaves a local authority area where the lighting is to a high modern standard and passes into a local authority area where the lighting is to a lower standard, it is disturbing for the driver. It may even be downright disconcerting, for he has the problem of whether to put on his headlamps.

Photo of Mr Arthur Moyle Mr Arthur Moyle , Oldbury and Halesowen

There are also the varying times of extinguishing the lights.

Photo of Sir Richard Nugent Sir Richard Nugent , Guildford

Yes. It is certainly quite the reverse of being helpful to road safety.

I think I should say that in this picture all is not gloom, because in post-war years local authorities have shown themselves aware of the need to improve their street lighting on their traffic routes, and they have made excellent progress despite the fact that they have not been grant-aided. Table 2 in Mr. Berry's paper gives the trunk road figures, and the hon. Member quoted some figures for the general expenditure. The fact is that the expenditure has been rising rapidly in post-war years, especially in recent years. Local authorities have cleanly shown themselves sensitive to this matter.

The standards of lighting are, I think, fairly satisfactory. I am not able to give the right hon. Gentleman any account of experiments that are being done on the lines he indicated, but it is a point that I will gladly look into, and I will let him know the answer. We are, of course, guided by the British Standards Institution's codes of practice, and we are also assisted by the Association of Public Lighting Engineers. The codes of practice now established, especially the latest standards, give a very satisfactory result indeed in respect of the height of the lamp, in the system of cut-off to prevent glare, and in the intensity of the lamp. It is now possible to reduce the lurid hues of blue and yellow which make everyone such a curious colour, even more than the lights in this Chamber do. The lamps are gradually becoming whiter, which is important, especially in the shopping areas. Shops look desperate if there is a blue or yellow light on them, and, not unnaturally, the shopkeepers do not think it assists their business.

The standards have improved both technically and in the extent to which they are applied. As the hon. Member rightly said, the engineers are to be congratulated on what they have done. The standards were based on the work of the pre-war departmental committee which reported in 1937, the group A standard being for traffic routes and group B for other routes. I need not go into the details of those standards, for I feel that hon. Members are familiar with them.

In his paper, Mr. Berry dealt with them in a very interesting fashion. A point to which the hon. Member did not refer is, I think, important. It is that in that paper the engineer refers to the comparative capital and running costs of the various lamps. It is interesting and encouraging to see that, despite the very greatly superior lighting standard of modern installations, the running costs are considerably lower than those of the old-fashioned installations because of their heavy consumption and heavy maintenance costs.

This is a point of which local authorities are fully aware, and it explains why they are pressing on to replace their old-fashioned installations as soon as they conveniently can. They are, of course, bound to have regard to the life of existing installations, and that means that in some places we shall have to wait longer than in others for a modern installation. However, it is a matter for great satisfaction that, despite the higher initial cost, the running costs, including the capital costs, come out at such a competitive and attractive rate.

I hope that eventually these standards will be universal for trunk routes in urban and semi-urban areas, but as I say, this is bound to be a long-term development. I should very much like to accelerate what is happening on the lines that the hon. Member suggested, and I am willing to take two steps to do so. First, I will ask our divisional road engineers, in conjunction with the highway authorities, to make a survey of street lighting on all trunk and classified roads throughout the country. This will be a first step to considering what action should be taken to solve the problem. It will throw up the complete picture. I think we should get that done in the next four to six months. We shall then be very much better placed to decide how we ought to proceed.

In the meantime—I gladly accept the hon. Member's suggestion—I will ask our divisional road engineers to consult lighting authorities which are in large conurbations and adjacent to each other and suggest that they should form some local joint advisory committee to co-ordinate street lighting in the whole area. I think that is a thoroughly helpful suggestion. I shall myself call the first conference in the London area to see whether I can get that degree of co-operation among the authorities in the setting up of such a body. I entirely accept that nothing but good can come from such a suggestion. We may well succeed in getting a measure of co-operation between the authorities which will progressively eliminate the pools of gloom referred to so convincingly by the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member.

I conclude by saying that I welcome the debate. I was about to say that it has thrown light on dark places, and that is very important. All of us drive about the country nowadays and know how disconcerting it is to drive from a well-lit area into a badly-lit area. It is in these semi-illuminated streets on the outskirts of urban areas, and sometimes in the middle of them, where accidents tend to occur—where vehicles are continuing to travel with side lights only, not having turned on their head lamps. Anything we can do to improve that situation we should certainly do, and the House can be assured that I will do my best to promote that valuable development.