Orders of the Day — Street Lighting

– in the House of Commons at 7:57 am on 27th July 1989.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Greg Knight.]

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. The hon. Gentleman is cutting into the time of his hon. Friend. I hope that he will not do that.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

I hope that we are not adjourning the Consolidated Fund debate.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood. The Question has been put that the House do now adjourn. That means that he is cutting into the time of his hon. Friend. I hope that he will not do that.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen , Leyton

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will oppose that motion.

Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Woodspring

The hon. Gentleman cannot do that.

Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Pedestrian safety and street lighting requires urgent debate and I am grateful for the chance to raise this important matter.

The Government have been in office for 10 years and pedestrians in various parts of the country do not feel safe outside their homes. In particular, they do not feel safe on busy roads where' there is no easily accessible and safe place to cross the road. Very often, they do not feel safe in residential streets, particularly those built 30 or 40 years ago, which do not qualify for general improvement area status, and where the street lights are almost obsolete, and incapable of providing the lighting that is neded in 1989.

This is not just a constituency but a national matter, which affects mostly women, the elderly, the disabled and children. All are increasingly vulnerable when they go out after dark and find it difficult to cross the road because of lack of pedestrian crossings or of adequate in street lighting. As a result, the quality of life, which matters greatly to all, has suffered. Women do not even feel safe when collecting their children from nursery school after dark. They are afraid of attack. Elderly people are worried because although they know that the condition of the pavements is bad, with cracks and holes, they cannot see them if there is no light.

As citizens, we should be outraged when somebody almost has to be killed before a pedestrian crossing is provided on a busy street. We have to put up with all sorts of similar problems, and I do not want our elderly parents to have to live like that, or our children to be brought up in such an environment. I shall concentrate on the way in which public expenditure has become the victim of tunnel vision, instead of being aimed at meeting such needs, which were laid out in a recent report by the National Consumer Council.

How does this affect my constituency? I shall refer to the many petitions that I have received in the past year. The number of them made it essential that I took up the matter with the city council, Staffordshire county council and the previous Minister with responsibility for district lighting. What went wrong? Why are so many people in my constituency concerned? What do we need to do, and who should do it? How can we ensure that something gets done? As the debate comes at the end of a long Session, I hope that it will enable us to shed some light on the matter. I hope that the Minister will use the recess to think about this, and that he will come back with some positive ideas for action to improve matters.

In many parts of my constituency there is not much light in the streets. For example, constituents in Duddell road presented me with a petition, shortly followed by one from people who live in Ashman street, who realised that the street lighting there was as bad as that in Duddell road. In Minder grove, in Sneyd green, residents feel that their street lighting is outdated. An estate in the Stanfields area of Burslem Park asked for help, and I took up the matter with the Midlands electricity board. It told me that the street lighting was out of date, so it was difficult to have decent lighting there. I have a series of letters, including one from the Hollywall estates residents organisation, which said: We decided to ask for improvement in the quality of street lighting. A representative of the City Engineers Department, a Mr. P. Stephens, came to tell us how difficult it was going to be to get the work done on improvements, but even he admitted that the standard of street lighting on Hollywall Estate is `Abysmal!'. The aim was, and still is to make the people of the estate, particularly the elderly, feel safe to go out from behind their locked doors after dark. We have started a Neighbourhood Watch and we hoped that this in conjunction with improved street lighting would help achieve our aim. We do not have a large vandalism problem, yet. We would like to prevent this. Finally, I received a petition from residents on the Burslem Park estate. They want to have their lighting improved and they want lighting to be provided in many back alleyways and unadopted roads on the estate.

I took up these matters with the city council, the county council and the Minister who then had responsibility for these matters. Late one midsummer night this year—it had just about become dark at midnight but it was a night of pouring rain—I walked the streets of my constituency with members of the parliamentary lighting group, local residents, councillors and the city engineer. It was hoped that with the presence of the lighting group and representatives from Philips we would have an independent assessment of what needed to be done to improve the street lights in residential areas. It is to main trunk roads that the majority of Government moneys are directed through the county councils and the highways departments.

We took a close look at all the problems and it was explained to me by the chairman of the city council highways committee, Councillor Gordon Tuck, that the responsibility rests with the county council because Stoke-on-Trent is not a highway authority in its own right. The county council explained to me that it could not do anything because over the past two years its capital budget has been reduced by 40 per cent. The Minister will know that the transport supplementary grant is so organised that 95 per cent. of the money is spent on designated, named, major traffic schemes. The small-scale expenditure that I am talking about is not that sort of designated expenditure, and it would seem that there is no chance that the money will be made available. I learnt from the county council that £17,000 has been made available for street lighting for the entire county in the past year.

When the time comes for the Minister to reply, I am sure that he will leap to his feet—I know that he visited Stoke-on-Trent in a previous incarnation—to tell us that the matter has nothing to do with him and that another Department should realise what needs to be done. But if a local authority is not a highway authority in its own right, it has no control over the priority that is attached to street lighting. If a local authority has not been designated by the Department of the Environment as an urban programme area, as is the case with Stoke-on-Trent, funds that might be available to similar parts of the country are not available to spend on street lighting.

Stoke has no programme area status, and has been denied access to another budget that could have helped us to improve street lighting. Government cuts to local councils have left them without money to invest in essential infrastructure on the scale that is required and which I and others have identified in Stoke-on-Trent.

We could ask the Home Office whether it could help. A major part of the debate relates to crime prevention. I am sure that the Government will be aware of an important report by Kate Painter on the Edmonton project, which was funded by the Thorn lighting division. That project shows that, without doubt, improved street lighting can dramatically, immediately and at low cost reduce specific crime and—this is equally important—the fear of crime within a locality.

I asked the county council whether money could be made available through the police budget to improve street lighting. Costings show that for every £500 spent on improved street lighting, the cost of crime is reduced by about £2,000 annually.

If the existing obsolete street lighting is replaced there will be at least two further benefits. Photographs taken all over my constituency prove that the existing standards have rotted, and there is a clear danger that they could fall and hit people. Also, if the outdated technology is improved, huge energy savings will be made. Is there any possibility that the Department of Trade and Industry or the Department of Energy will consider the matter in terms of the energy savings that could result from a short-term investment?

I return to my constituency, and to the councillors, city engineer, and crime prevention officer who walked the streets of Tunstall, Burslem and Smallthorne with me in the pouring rain on a dark night in the hope of bringing the problem of street lighting in those places to the Government's attention.

It would cost approximately £500,000 per annum to replace the city's 22,000 street lights every 25 to 30 years. I have already explained that only £17,000 was available last year for the county's entire lighting needs. A large proportion of street lighting on Stoke-on-Trent's 361 unclassified roads is now at the end of its useful life and is deteriorating rapidly. Current lighting levels in those areas fall well below even the minimum recommended by the British Standards Institution, represented by the figure of 1·0. The average standard achieved in Stoke-on-Trent is only 0·6, which gives some idea of the extent of the problem.

It is a question of the quality of life, but so far no policy has been formulated for directing money at lighting needs. Perhaps it would be possible to increase the transport supplementary grant. The Cabinet is currently dispensing the public expenditure allocations for next year. Perhaps there could be greater flexibility, so that 95 per cent. of the money available will not have to be spent on major, named schemes, with very little left for smaller projects.

What are the Government doing to co-ordinate the activities of the different but relevant Departments? I should like to see established a rolling programme of street lighting improvement and replacement in my constituency and elsewhere in the country. I hope that, as we near the last day of the Session, the Government will announce the introduction of a mechanism to deal with the problems that I have described, so that in the future my constituents can leave their homes after dark and still feel safe—which is the most important thing of all.

Photo of Mr Robert Atkins Mr Robert Atkins , South Ribble 8:14 am, 27th July 1989

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North, (Ms. Walley) on the way in which she has raised, with her own inimitable charm, the anxieties of her constituents expressed by way of petition and letter. It was right and proper that she should do so in some detail.

Being the charitable lady that I know her to be, she will realise that I am not yet in a position to speak with great authority. The forthcoming holiday will be the time when I work my way through a great deal of the documentation which will include matters relating to pedestrian safety and lighting which she has drawn to the attention of the House.

The hon. Lady will know that in a former incarnation within the Department of Trade and Industry, I was made fully aware of the activities of the parliamentary lighting group. Indeed, I addressed it on one auspicious evening. As a result of those responsibilities, I learned about the manufacturing problems arising from the lighting of pedestrian areas and streets.

I hope that the hon. Lady will understand if I say that I shall read what she has had to say and what I have heard myself so that I shall be able to deal with the details when we return after a much-needed recess.

Let me briefly touch upon what I understand to be the case for pedestrian safety, particularly in the context of lighting, which has been left to me by my predecessor and my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department.

The hon. Lady may or may not know that a leaflet on pedestrian safety was published not too long ago. It contained new proposals for making walking safer. I was fascinated to learn that the hon. Lady trekked the streets of her constituency in the pouring rain one summer evening. We all get involved in such activities in one way or another. She may have recognised then, if she had not already done so in the course of her activities, that the safety of pedestrians, whether in daylight or at night, is a matter for the Department of Transport.

The document deals with five areas—education and training; road engineering; our conspicuity campaign to encourage greater use of fluorescent and reflective clothing; the responsibilities of pedestrians as well as those in the local authority who look after their safety, and, above all, research, one of the areas in which I was slightly involved in the Department of Trade and Industry.

The leaflet has been well received by many people, certainly by all those involved in such matters. As the hon. Lady says, street lighting is important to road safety. The number of night-time casualty accidents is 30 per cent. Of the total number of accidents, whereas night-time traffic flows amount to about 25 per cent. of the total traffic. It is clear from those statistics that the accident rate is higher at night, a matter to which the hon. Lady drew the attention of the House. Moreover, night-time accidents in general are more severe, with a higher proportion of casualties killed or seriously injured.

Road lighting reduces night-time accidents by some 30 per cent. Most urban roads are lit. I have visited Stoke-on-Trent three times, but I am not familiar with all the roads there. However, I suspect that most will be lighted to a greater or lesser extent. Even so, about 95 per cent. of pedestrian casualties and 80 per cent. of pedestrian fatalities occur on roads in built-up areas.

In 1987, the latest year for which we have figures, 28 per cent. of pedestrian casualties and 45 per cent. of pedestrian deaths occurred during night time. The proportion of pedestrians killed or seriously injured is higher at night than in daylight—about 38 per cent. at night, compared with 28 per cent. in daylight.

Accidents at or within 50 m of pedestrian crossings are more frequent at night, but there are few such accidents on unlit streets. The Department's guidance on lighting at crossings includes advice on supplementary lighting on the footways in the vicinity of a crossing. Floodlighting of crossings leads to poorer relative illumination of the surrounding roadway, where more pedestrians are injured than on the crossing itself.

As the hon. Lady drew to the attention of the House, street lighting in urban areas has three benefits. There are the road safety and general pedestrian amenity aspects, as well as the deterrence of crime and, as the hon. Lady rightly said, the improved safety of women at night.

The hon. Lady asked about the involvement of a variety of Departments and I shall get around to answering her questions in due course. The Home Office and the Departments of Transport, of Trade and Industry and of the Environment deal with safety as it relates to street lighting and the general pedestrian amenity.

In England local authority expenditure on lighting has remained around 14 or 15 per cent. of their total road current expenditure over the past five years—although, as the hon. Lady said, in Staffordshire it fell from 16 per cent. to 13 per cent. in that same period. During the past five years local authorities have not always spent all the money allocated for road expenditure. The hon. Lady will know better than I do what Staffordshire spends and she will also appreciate that these are matters for the authority.

I cannot really comment on capital allocations overall. because those are matters for the Department of the Environment, and it is down to each county authority or metropolitan borough to decide how to allocate its expenditure. I can only suggest that if the hon. Lady speaks to her local authority with the same persuasive charm with which she has addressed the House its representatives will recognise the needs of her constituents in Burslem and other places where lighting is weak.

Road lighting is designed so that pedestrians will appear as a dark outline shape against a bright road surface. It provides some illumination of adjacent footways to aid pedestrians and forewarn drivers. Lighting should be in operation from about 30 minutes after sunset until 30 minutes before sunrise. The practice adopted by some local authorities of extinguishing some lighting during periods of very low traffic flow is detrimental to the interests of emergency services, to public security and especially to pedestrians, as well as incurring a loss of accident savings. Moreover, the energy saved is relatively small in terms of costs. Such a practice is not generally helpful to the safety of pedestrians in areas that need lighting.

Of the 108 English local highway authorities, only 71 included bids for street lighting expenditure in their transport policies and programmes submissions for 1989–90. Some of the planned work is likely to have been for the benefit of residential areas, although few authorities specified that. The hon. Lady asked what expenditure would be in the current public expenditure round. I am not in a position to judge at this stage. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury will doubtless be examining all matters relating to that in considerable detail. Time will tell, although, on a brief acquaintance with the Department for which I am now privileged to speak, it appears that we have had a very large allocation in our budget, and we hope that the transport community will benefit across the board.

The hon. Lady referred to other Departments. She may or may not be aware that the Home Office is sponsoring research into the link between low lighting and crime. So far, there is no research evidence to show that road lighting reduces crime rates, although common sense suggests that it must. Some research shows that better lighting significantly reduces the fear of crime. Of course people will be happier if they go out and can feel secure because they can see their way. We all know the problems that arise with dark alley ways, particularly on housing estates, and with underpasses. The Home Office is addressing itself to precisely those matters.

All in all, I am delighted that the hon. Lady has drawn my attention to these important matters, which I shall have to consider in detail. As I acquaint myself with the subject during the next few weeks I shall reflect on the hon. Lady's questions and ensure that I ask similar questions of my officials, to see whether we can find solutions that will be of benefit to pedestrians generally and especially to those constituents to whom the hon. Lady referred in the part of her constituency that had difficulties. I hope that next time we meet across a crowded Chamber, we shall be able to discuss the matter in more detail.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-eight minutes past Eight o'clock.