Some of the borough’s residential streets are so poorly lit after contractors Skanska have “designed” and installed its “modern” street lamps, that one elected councillor has complained that she no longer feels safe to walk alone along some of the roads in her neighbourhood at night.
Unfinished or poorly finished road works and lamp posts badly positioned or shaded by trees are among the other complaints which have been passed to this website about the work being conducted by Skanska. Lighting outside Croydon Minster has been switched off for more than a month, while the contractors await permission to conduct the work they started in early September.
But Inside Croydon has now been given sight of an internal email thread between a woman councillor and a senior council official, Tony Brooks, the director of environment, which complains that, under Skanska’s new lighting, they no longer feel safe on some streets at night.
“Roads such as Biggin Hill, Norbury Avenue, Norbury Hill, Kensington Avenue and Spa Hill are extremely long roads and if you are a young woman, elderly person or indeed anyone at all walking down these streets at night you may feel unsafe,” the councillor writes.
“Before the lights were changed it was already too dark, so how does removing lamp posts and replacing them with fewer columns that shine from a further distance make any sense?
“For the first time in over 20 years I felt unsafe when walking my dog at night because it was so dark…
“I appreciate that all councils have been forced to tighten their belts but safety is paramount. If one person is assaulted or falls over unnecessarily because they can’t see, then it really will be unacceptable. Prevention is better than cure.
“The residents are telling us that there is a problem. Why aren’t we listening? Do the Skanska staff that designed the layout live here? Did they visit the area and design the layout street by street? I very much doubt the latter, hence the design should be open to informed variation from our residents where and when it is required.
“Surely problems such as this are covered in the contract?”
The council official, Tony Brooks, did not address the final question directly, but offered reassurances that the lighting was “compliant” with safety requirements.
The correspondence, with its tone of frustration at the poor quality of the work being done for the local residents, is illuminating (pun intended), since it demonstrates the realities of the relationship between largely powerless elected councillors and the handsomely salaried senior council officials, the people who are really in charge of the council.
Elsewhere in the email chain, Brooks had informed ward councillors: “I understand that this had been reported previously and Skanska, the street lighting contractor, have undertaken inspections of the lighting and found that the this is compliant. In those circumstances it is not possible to put in any additional columns.”
So according to Brooks, Skanska, who did the original work which generated the complaint, have been asked to check it, and they have told Brooks that there’s nothing wrong with it. So that’s alright then.
Brooks wrote, “The lighting level checks are carried out with a light metre [sic]”.
Sources inside Fisher’s Folly, the council offices, say that in the past Brooks worked very closely with Phil Thomas, the Tory councillor who was in charge of the borough’s roads maintenance.
As Brooks was in charge of the department when when, in 2011, Skanska was awarded the £79 million contract, if there are problems with the delivery on that contract, or its terms and demands on the contractors, then it may reflect poorly on Brooks himself.
The email chain between Brooks and the councillor arose after residents complained that their road was less well-lit because there were fewer of the new, taller lamp posts than there had been before, and those that were installed had been positioned too close to the roadside trees.
Inside Croydon has reported before on Skanska’s somewhat eccentric approach to positioning lamp posts around the borough’s streets, with some having to be re-sited after complaints that they have blocked pavements, making it impossible for parents pushing children in pushchairs or wheelchair users to pass without having to manoeuvre into the road.
Now, Skanska are considering lopping mature trees in residential streets just because they are incapable of positioning their lamp posts in a manner which can illuminate the road when the trees are in leaf.
Skanska has responded to residents’ complaints by claiming that their new lighting “has been designed to minimise interference from trees…” but adding, “it is inevitable that some shading will occur wherever large trees are present. We will carry out pruning in the immediate vicinity of the light columns affected by tree shadowing.”
In the meantime, with Skanska’s lights being blocked by trees, some streets are now as dark at night as before the contractors installed their “modern” lamp posts.
As a consequence, some narrow pavements on the darkened streets have become frequently targeted by fly-tippers. In one case, under cover of darkness – even though the Skanska street lights were on – fly-tippers managed to dump a load of builder’s rubble on the pavement unseen and undetected. All to be cleared away at a cost to Council Tax-payers.
But Croydon residents can rest easy, because council official Tony Brooks has asked Skanska to look into the matter, and they say everything’s looking bright.
- Inside Croydon would encourage its loyal reader to take part in the Skanska street lighting survey, here. Let them know what Croydon residents really think.
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The general approach taken in design seems to have been to reduce the number of lamp columns, and install much taller replacements. Fine, if the lamps are not up in the tree canopy. To prune trees to overcome the problem resulting from a key design decision seems wrong. Will Skanska be paying for the pruning?. Or is that an “extra ” to the contract, payable by the council tax payer?
If the requirements for street-lighting to be compliant are known, or can be provided by the Council then presumably concerned citizens [or Councillors] can check the statutory requirement is being met.
I am a believer in not trusting those who install to also be the judge.
I would volunteer myself however as I have just spent considerable money mailing 3700 members of a charity that is apparently going ape by running loss-making commercial businesses whilst paying its executives over £300,000 you can see where the priority lies.