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Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. When considering the provision of street lighting in rural areas, my Department’s Roads Service applies two main criteria: the housing density in the community, including public buildings with significant night-time use, and road safety, in circumstances in which street lighting might contribute to a reduction of night-time accidents.
Roads Service last reviewed the policy for the provision of road lighting in rural areas in 2002 in order to take account of public buildings with significant night-time use. The demand for more rural lighting must be balanced against environmental impacts, such as night-sky light pollution and increased carbon dioxide emissions; the financial cost of providing and maintaining additional public-lighting installations must also be considered.
Roads Service previously considered two scenarios for extending rural street-lighting criteria: first, to extend the eligible length of road from 200m to 300m, and, secondly, to reduce the number of dwellings — including public dwellings — that are counted as two houses from 10 to eight. Both measures would reduce the housing density required to qualify for lighting, and it was estimated that those measures could enable approximately 180 additional locations to be eligible for street lighting, broadly costing an additional £3 million. There are no plans for a further review of rural, public-lighting criteria.
Many rural dwellers will be disappointed that there will be no review, particularly in light of the impact of PPS 14 on rural areas and the loss of any opportunity for housing growth.
I am interested in what the Minister claims to be night-time light pollution. One can only assume that that comes from increased energy consumption, because I cannot conceive of how light could contribute to pollution in the night sky.
Are the set criteria not subjective, rather than objective? There appears to be a lack of clarity throughout various sectors about how the criteria should be implemented. Therefore, in light of PPS 14, will the Minister reconsider his decision to review street lighting?
There is a measurement of night-time light pollution, and I shall leave it for, perhaps, the Minister of the Environment to explain to the Member in more detail. [Laughter.] Nevertheless, light pollution is a recognised factor in the countryside and it changes the character of many rural areas.
When PPS 14 is changed — as we hope that it will be — that may increase the number of qualifying public buildings in rural areas and allow more of them to meet the criteria. The Member knows that the amount that we can spend on such matters is limited. The range of requests is always greater than the measures for which we have adequate resources. Therefore, we must set criteria, against which we must prioritise our spending.
The Member wants more street lighting in rural areas; her colleague has submitted a question about footpaths, and I am sure that he wants more of them in rural areas. Last week, some of the Member’s colleagues proposed a motion on traffic-calming measures, in which they wished every residential area to have 20 mph zones and traffic-calming measures. That is all wonderful, and if those Members had argued for my Department to receive several hundred million pounds more during the Budget debate, at least their approach would have been consistent. However, it is all very well to argue for such things, and for spending more money, after the Budget has been set. The Department spends as much as possible under the criteria, and it attempts to do as good a job as it can with its limited budget.
The Minister said that health and safety was a matter that had influenced his response. Will he tell Members about the street-lighting policy, particularly with regard to health and safety, for footpaths that lead to churches and, indeed, chapels in the countryside? Why is there sometimes a footpath with no street lighting and street lighting with no footpath? Perhaps, now is the time to co-ordinate the provision of both facilities.
I am sure that Roads Service will seek to co-ordinate those matters when it can.
Roads Service may sometimes inherit developments where there is a footpath that has no lighting, or vice versa. As I said, public safety is a key criterion. When public safety is being examined, it is a sad but necessary fact that accident history has to play a part in deciding where limited resources are spent. Therefore, areas that have more of an accident history are prioritised.
Chapels, churches or other public buildings are treated as two dwellings when using the equation that is based on 10 houses. In 2002, a review was carried out to consider public buildings that have a specific night-time use. It may not be the case that churches or chapels have the same amount of night-time use as some community halls or sports facilities, but that is how they are included in the calculation. However, public safety is a key element; therefore, the accident history of an area is taken into account.
I thank the Minister for his robust first answer to the question — I am sure that it is not necessary for a Member from County Antrim to refer one of the Members from Armagh to the observatory and the effects that light pollution has on astronomy.
Has the Minister obtained an assessment from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency — or the Environment and Heritage Service, as it was in its previous life — of the effect of increasing amounts of street lighting in rural areas on nocturnal wildlife and the potential threat that such lighting may be to our environment?
When providing street lighting in rural areas, the effect of night-time light pollution is one issue that is taken into consideration. I am sure that Roads Service will take advice from environmental agencies when determining the effect that such pollution will have. I am not sure whether Roads Service takes advice on the impact that it could have on wildlife, but I will try to ascertain that and will correspond with the Member on the matter.