Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy has snuffed out any hopes of a brighter New Year for reDerry people forced to live with broken street lights.
In a letter to be presented before Derry City Council’s Environmental Services Committee next week, the Minister’s Private Secretary Ruth Gawley has written that there was still no money for either street lights or gully emptying.
Her letter was in response to widespread concerns over the growing number of areas being left in the dark in Derry this winter.
These include at the entrances to some of the city’s underpass tunnels, where there has been recent reports of anti-social behaviour, as well as in cul-de-sacs and on main roads.
Derry City Council had written to Mr Kennedy amid anger that someone could be killed in a road accident or that night-time attacks may escalate unless action is taken.
It emerged this week that the number of broken lights has now shot up to 2,500- accounting for more than 10% of the city’s 21,000 public lamps.
In the letter, Ms Gawley states: “Despite starting the year with a significant funding shortfall and submitting bids for additional funding as part of the June and October monitoring processes, the Department’s Resource budget has been cut significantly.
“The Resource budget is used to fund the day-to-day maintenance operation.
“As a direct result and with regret, the Minister has had to suspend the issuing of new works to external contractors for a range of activities including gully empting and the repair of street lights that fail, unless they pose an electrical or structural hazard. The Department simply cannot continue to spend money which it doesn’t have.”
She added: “In order to deal with the public safety implications, the Minister has set priorities for dealing with street lighting faults, with contractors still being employed to deal with faults that present an electrical or structural hazard to members of the public, despite the prevailing funding pressures.
“For other street lighting defects, where there is no electrical or structural hazard, the Department’s Operations and Maintenance staff are able to provide around 25% of the usual resources required to fix street lighting faults and they will endeavour to repair as many lights as possible, with large groups of lights which are out being dealt with first, followed by individual lights that have failed. In the present circumsntances, it will therefore take longer to fix individual outages.”
She added that in relation to the emptying of gullies, again the cuts have had an impact on level of service.
She concludes by saying: “This is not the level of service the Minister would like to provide, but his Department has to live within the budget set by the Executive.”
At a council committee meeting in December, TransportNI’s Divisional Manager for the West Conor Loughrey said that their “hands were tied” over the street lights issue.
Various councillors warned that elderly people in particular were being left feeling scared and vulnerable as cul-de-sacs and avenues across the city were being plunged into darkness during the short winter days.
The Mayor Of Derry, SDLP Councillor Brenda Stevenson said the situation was simply not good enough.
“It is unbelievable we are sitting in 2014 and we are not getting lights fixed,” she said.