Leeds LED lights scheme branded ‘£5m dimmer switch’

Councillors take a dim view of lighting plans.
Councillors take a dim view of lighting plans.

A group of politicians have claimed plans to create a “smart” street lighting system in Leeds are nothing more than a “£5m dimmer switch”.

Plans to spend around £5m on “smart city” sensors for 86,000 newly-installed LED street lights were agreed by council chiefs last month.

The council claims the sensors could help save electricity by dimming the LED lights without losing visibility.

But Liberal Democrat members of Leeds City Council believe the money should instead be spent on keeping streets brightly lit during the night, so that citizens feel safer.

Coun Stewart Golton, leader of the council’s Liberal Democrats group, referred to the plans as a “£5m dimmer switch”.

His colleague, Coun Carmel Harrison (Lib Dem), added: “This is a dim move and personally I am very angry that despite saving money with LEDs, Labour are going to spend £5 million of our money to have the ability to make every street darker whenever they want.

“This is bad news for the elderly, women shift workers and public transport users. Burglars on the other hand will be rubbing their hands.”

Leeds City Council’s portfolio holder for regeneration, transport and planning, Coun Richard Lewis (Lab), said: “With the improvements to LED technology this scheme now makes sense financially and offers a good investment for Leeds. If we had invested before now, we would be locked in to a worse, disadvantageous agreement that would be saving far less money for the city.

“As it has clearly been said both in the report and elsewhere, we only consider light switch offs between midnight and 5:30am, a time when hardly anyone is out at all, and only after carefully study of the area. There is no evidence that dark streets lead to more crime and it’s just fear mongering to make claims to the contrary.

“The way LED lights work means we can easily dim areas when we need to, with very little impact on the actual visibility of an area which creates further savings.

“Five million pounds spent on the ability to dim lights would still be a good investment, saving £200,000 a year, but as the report again clearly states, that’s not all that it is for. There are further savings in the fact that’s the street lights will be able to self-diagnose, will need less inspections and allow us to carry out more responsive repairs.

“As well as this, the data gathering aspect of the smart city proposals will make it easier to react to changes in Leeds, as we will be able to see and collect near real time data. I don’t think anyone knows the full potential of what we could do with this technology yet, but even with our conservative proposals we know it can make big changes for Leeds.

“One example that I think people would appreciate is, with the technology going onto streetlights, we will be able to see the temperatures of roads and know where and when we need to grit when the weather changes.

“Its short-sighted and wrong to think that this £5M is simply a dimmer switch when it will unlock so much potential for the city.”

Responding to the Liberal Democrats’ concerns at a full council meeting earlier this month, deputy leader of the authority Coun Debra Coupar said: “While I appreciate there may be reduced fear of crime by some in well-lit streets, I am not aware of any evidence that suggests that streets that are lit after dark are any safer than those that are not.”

Council chiefs were told last month that the “smart lighting” system could help monitor gulleys in a bid to improve flood defences and measure road temperatures to aid gritting.

The authority believes the LEDs would result in annual energy savings of around region of £2.85m and maintenance savings of around £570,000 a year.

The work follows a move from the council in 2013 to switch off 3,700 of its street lights for part of the night in a bid to save money.

The council hopes to begin replacing the lights in Summer 2019.