On Monday, a report was been published and submitted to Shepway Joint Transportation Board's meeting of 3rd December. Stick with me. This gets more interesting.
The agenda for the meeting is at http://www.shepway.gov.uk/moderngov/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=150&MId=2479
The report on the agenda that caught my eye was at item 9 "Common sense plan for safe and sensible street lighting" (http://www.shepway.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/s10194/rsjtb20121203%20Sensible%20street%20lighting.pdf).
Reading that report was a huge eye-opener for Folkestone West. The key section of this report read:
Removal of surplus lights along main routes
In the past, extension of street lighting went far beyond the required needs so we are removing around 3,100 street lights where lighting is considered not necessary. They are far in excess of the normal lighting standards and have a disproportionate maintenance cost due to their location. They are generally located on roads leading to or out of local settlements. Lights within settlements will be retained. Site-specific risk assessments for each road have been carried out to make sure that we only remove lights that are not needed. Removing these lights will save the tax payer around £200,000 and reduce our carbon emission by about 1,000 tonnes every year.
A list of these columns and plan of each site within the Shepway District are shown in Appendix A and B respectively. The works will be undertaken on a district by district basis and, are due to commence in January 2013. The entire programme of removing surplus columns will take approximately 45 weeks to complete. The works for Shepway will start on 18 February 2013 and will take around three weeks to complete.
At Appendix A (http://www.shepway.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/s10195/rsjtb20121203%20appx%20a%20sensible%20st%20lighting.pdf) the lights to be removed in Shepway are listed. there were around 15 schemes for shepway, totalling 226 columns to be removed. this is the first anyone has been told of these specific schemes - and yet they were PROGRAMMED to be done already. No consultation - just for noting.
The schemes affecting Folkestone West in particular were:
Maps showing the location of the columns to be removed at are at http://www.shepway.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/s10196/rsjtb20121203%20appx%20b%20west%20sensible%20st%20lighting.pdf but essentially are:
Anyone with any local knowledge at all would consider those bizarre decisions, for a variety of reasons. That afternoon, I emailed director of Kent Highways John Burr and Kent County Council Cabinet Member for Highways Bryan Sweetland saying:
"The section on street light removals was a complete shock to me, and I in no way can support them - specifically the ones within Folkestone West.
"Sandgate Esplanade - the lights are along a residential stretch of road, which includes a bar, a hotel and a pub. It is well walked at night, and along the A259 which is heavily used by traffic at all times.
"Sandgate Hill - this is a downward approach to a junction on which we have already installed traffic calming measures - we will now remove the lighting so people can't see them?!
"A20 approach to J12 M20: the junction into Peene is made much safer with the lights there, as is the works entrance into the Channel Tunnel, making much of that stretch of lights important for road safety. Also, a number of people walk / cycle to the Eurotunnel site entrance after dark as its a 24 hour operation. Do we really want them to do that in the dark?
"Please - can you tell me if I should have seen these proposals before, and to whom I need to speak to request that these works are de-programmed immediately. I cannot support them in any way."
Reply, to date, I have had none.
Having spoken to the Lib Dem Group on Kent County Council, it was clear that the extent and impact of these schemes was big news to all of us, not just me. So we put together a motion for the next Full Council Meeting on Kent County Council and submitted it at 3pm on Tuesday 27th November. It reads:
"This Council is alarmed at some of the proposals put forward for streetlight removals or permanent disconnections across the County, and equally alarmed that the removals or permanent disconnections are being reported to Joint Transportation Boards for noting, rather than for agreement or rejection.
"This Council agrees to halt the proposed removal programme until meaningful consultation on each individual scheme is held. Any streetlights proposed to be removed or permanently disconnected as part of an energy reduction programme should be subject to consultation with District, Borough, City, Town and / or Parish Councils as appropriate in advance. Each removal scheme should proceed only with agreement of the appropriate areas Joint Transportation Board or equivalent."
On the same day, a motion was put by myself and Cllr Gary Fuller to Sandgate Parish Council alerting them to the issue of the lights in Sandgate, and objecting to their removal. This motion will be discussed by Sandgate Parish Council on 11th December. Folkestone Town Council may shortly be receiving a similar motion.
And then - quiet. Not a reply from John Burr. Or Bryan Sweetland. Nada. Until yesterday afternoon, when a officer at Shepway district Council emails. He says:
"Please note that the item on Monday's agenda on street lighting (agenda item 9) has been withdrawn by KCC."
[Consequently, some of the links to papers above may not now work if they've been withdrawn. Sorry.]
That sounds good, but is it the end of the matter? Have KCC made a complete U-turn and will leave our streetlights where they are, or have they just withdrawn the paper telling us about them? Have they listened?
Withdrawing the proposals and cancelling the programme to remove the streetlights would be great (and one of the quickest responses I've ever seen!). But is that what has happened? I've emailed back and wait to find out. Watch this space.