LED street lighting upgrade scheme

Led street lighting upgrade before and after image
Before and after the LED upgrades at Rivenhall Road, Westlea, Swindon (looking east)

There are almost 29,000 streetlights on our highway network. Energy costs have risen sharply in recent years, and are likely to continue to rise in the longer term. The annual cost for street lighting energy is currently over £1.3m, and with current budget restrictions, these costs are becoming increasingly unaffordable.

We are investing £7.2m to convert approximately 26,000 of our street lighting to LED units over an 18-month period. We will also be undertaking some essential column replacements as part of the scheme. The upgrade is expected to deliver a substantial reduction in the amount of energy purchased and utilised by the council, aiming for a 61% improvement, while also providing better lighting services for residents and saving approximately £800,000 per year.

We have listed some questions and answers about the project below. Regular updates will be given on our social media channels and via our Highways News newsletter.

In 2018-19, street lighting accounted for 3,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, which is more than half of our electricity-related emissions. Changing the lights will make a significant saving to those emissions

Light Emitting Diode (LED) lighting is energy efficient and has reduced in price considerably in recent years. Prior to this upgrade, 18% of our street lighting was LED lighting, with the majority being the older low pressure sodium (SOX) or high pressure sodium (SON) units. The SOX units are becoming obsolete and going out of production, and are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.

LED lights use considerably less energy than the older SOX and SON units. A major advantage is that LED lights provide the opportunity to dim the lighting during off-peak periods to further reduce energy consumption.

The programme started in July 2020 starting with major routes in Penhill, Upper Stratton, Blunsdon, Highworth and Rodbourne Cheney. The programme is due to be completed by Spring 2022.

Enerveo (formerly SSE Contracting) are our delivering partners and will be carrying out this work, which includes the implementation of a Central Management System (CMS) called PLANet. A CMS provides remote control, monitoring and energy management of street lighting over a wireless interface.

The benefit of using such a system is that it reduces maintenance costs. For example, night scouting will no longer be needed as the system will automatically report any faults. It also has the capability to reduce the light output in certain areas if and when required.

Many of the existing lights are reaching the end of their life with many components becoming obsolete. There are also massive energy savings with the new LED lanterns, as well as savings on carbon footprint.

The cost of the project is estimated to be £9.7m which includes £2.5m for replacing lamps columns where necessary and it is expected that the cost of replacing the LED units will have a pay back of five years, but this could be substantially sooner depending on future energy costs.

Energy costs have been rising enormously in recent years and, with the other services the Council has to provide, the cost of energy for the street lighting is becoming increasingly unaffordable. The savings in energy costs will help pay for the new lighting, and the project will significantly reduce the Council’s carbon footprint.

No, savings from initiatives such as these are needed to maintain frontline services and continue to successfully deliver the Council’s priorities.

It is anticipated that the new units will last 20 to 25 years. The older lamps currently in use usually have to be changed every 3 to 6 years.

The conversion will be carried out in about 15 minutes in most locations with little disturbance and disruption as it is only the electrical equipment being changed. However, in a few cases it may be necessary to renew the lighting column, which will require excavation in the pavement to provide and connect the new column.

Parking may be impacted in order to gain access to the street lights but prior notice will be given when those streets will be upgraded.

Every effort will be made to ensure that roads remain open while the work is carried out. However, there may be very short periods when we need to control traffic to protect the safety of both the public and our workforce. If you need to access your property at any time during the works, please inform the on-site team at the earliest opportunity and suitable arrangements will be made. Pedestrian access will be maintained at all times.

As lighting is not being removed or turned off it was not considered necessary to hold public consultation regarding these proposals.

Where trees, hedges or shrubs are blocking existing lighting, the vegetation will be pruned if appropriate. Work on the trees, hedges or shrubs will be carried out by experienced operatives in accordance with environmental restrictions, taking into account the health of the vegetation, nesting birds and any other restrictions. If there is no other option, relocation of the column may be considered. If the vegetation is in private ownership and overhanging the highway, the owners will be notified that they are responsible to carry out the work required. The contractor will either knock on the door, or leave a card or letter, giving residents 14 days’ notice of planned works on the streetlight. Residents have a responsibility to keep trees, hedges or shrubs maintained and trimmed back so that it does not infringe into the footway and affect access to street lights. If the resident consents, the contractor may be able to undertake some minor cutting back of the tree, hedge or shrub when attending to the lighting. If the resident does not consent, or does not cut back the tree, hedge or shrub within the 14 days, Swindon Borough Council, or their agents, do have Powers under the Highways Act 1980 to undertake that work necessary to access apparatus. The Council are also able to recharge residents for all works taken to cut back and remove offending vegetation. Residents are reminded that after cutting, most types of trees, hedges or shrubs make new growth, which can cause an obstruction at a future date. It would therefore be appreciated if pruning is periodically carried out to ensure that problems do not recur.

LED’s produce a whiter light than given off by old traditional lighting known as high and low pressure sodium which appear orange in colour. Colours become much more identifiable and objects more clear. Different colour temperatures are available; however, Swindon has chosen a warm white of 3000k which is the lowest widely available and commercially viable colour temperature unit at the time the contract was let, and is the benchmark for good LED lighting.

All areas to be lit with new LED lights will be checked to ensure that the light levels achieved comply with the minimum standards of the relevant British Standards. The light levels are minimised wherever possible. Lighting for each street is a bespoke design for that street and the light dimmed to provide just the right amount of light in the right place.

Some of the existing street lights use sodium which produces a light that appears orange in colour. LED lights produce a white light which makes it is easier to recognise colours, improving visibility for road users and pedestrians. Low pressure sodium lights were not energy efficient and consequently are going out of production. With the ending of the manufacture of the older orange lights and the safety advantages offered by white LED lights, it is neither possible nor beneficial to make like for like replacements with regard to colour of the light.

The purpose of street lighting is to ensure the Public Highway is lit to the appropriate standards. The lighting of private property is the responsibility of the homeowner or tenant.

The light produced from an LED lantern is far more directional than existing street lanterns.  We can control where it falls, directing it onto footways and carriageways where it is most needed, therefore, reducing light pollution into properties.

The existing lanterns are being replaced on a like for like basis and we do not intend to change or move any existing columns unless they are deemed to be unsafe.

In most cases it will be just the lantern which will be upgraded, and usually this will take around 15 minutes. Where other ancillary works or the street lighting columns as well as the lantern need to be replaced, this will take longer. Some electrical connections may have to be undertaken by the electricity company and it will be necessary for them to complete the works.

In most cases the conversion will be a quick operation done during the day. However, where columns have to be replaced some lights may be out of operation for a short period. Care will be taken to avoid creating large dark areas during implementation.

We have taken guidance from Public Health England, British and European Standards and obtrusive light guidance from the Institution of Lighting Professionals. We are satisfied that at the low lighting levels we are lighting our streets to provide negligible risks to residents. We are using Urbis Axia 3 lights manufactured by Urbis Schreder LED units with what is known as a colour temperature of 3000k, which are often referred to as warm white. These are the lowest widely available and commercially viable colour temperature units at the time the contract was let and is the benchmark for good LED lighting. Some other LED lights are available which have a higher colour temperature of 4000k and which are slightly more efficient. Some campaigners have had concerns about the wide use of these in other authorities however we can confirm that they are not going to be installed in Swindon as part of this work. More bespoke lanterns will be used in areas such as the town centre or conservation areas where lanterns can be replaced with the same or similar styles.

As LEDs produce a natural white light, this enables the human eye to see in colour and with improved peripheral vision. This should make your road look safer and help reduce crime and the fear of crime.

Some lighting columns control other columns, these are known as 'switch points'. Due to the complexity and high cost of upgrading these, a decision was made to remove these from the LED upgrade project. These will be upgraded separately, in the future, as part of other works (c200 units across the Borough). Until then, the switch points have been turned on to permanent supply so there may, unfortunately, be a number of lights 'day burning' until such time as these units are upgraded.

The upgraded street lights are controlled wirelessly by a base station, so information can be passed back and forth.

These base stations, of which there are 12, are spread across the whole of the borough. Each of them is equipped with a light meter which controls the timings when the street lights come on and off, depending on the environmental conditions. Each light on a street will seek out the strongest signal being transmitted within its range.

Depending on the light levels at the base station each individual upgraded street light is connected to, this will affect when the street lights are turned on or off. This means individual lights can vary, even on a single street.

They are designed to have a long life span of around 20 to 25 years of near maintenance-free service. Unlike with conventional street lighting units, there is not the need for frequent lamp changes, which means there is reduced waste and unit attendance. This means:

  • reduced annual energy consumption required to keep street lights illuminated
  • reduced disposal of old lamps containing harmful mercury or other materials
  • reduced fuel used and the accompanying pollution to service lights
  • reduced potential for disruption on the highway network through lane closures or road works to maintain the lights
  • less natural resources and energy used to produce replacement lamps for maintenance
  • less fuel used to transport the lamps from the factory (most likely overseas), to the distributor, to the contractor, to the job site

Once the new streetlights are installed, their brightness is set at a default setting. It can take 7-10 days for the contractor and software supplier to update the streetlighting system. If the light is still problematic after this period has passed, you can report it via the Report a faulty streetlight or illuminated sign webpage.

As the LED upgrade project finishes, we have upgraded around 26,000 lanterns across the borough.

There are a number of lighting columns across the borough that we were not able to upgrade due to various issues such as:

  • restricted access
  • overgrown vegetation
  • supply faults
  • other council highway projects involving street lighting replacements
  • the borough having not yet adopted the street light from a property developer
  • the lighting column being a control point (also known as a switch position)

To clarify this final point, switch positions control other nearby lighting columns. Due to the complexity and high cost of upgrading these switch positions, we decided to remove them from the scope of the LED upgrade project.

These switch positions require extensive re-cabling by the electricity company and this work was not covered by the grant we received to upgrade the lanterns to LED. The grant restricted spend to street lighting components, which meant additional complexities requiring third party intervention were not included.

Although this is rare, there are a few exceptional cases where the old lighting column - which can weigh approximately 500kg - may be left in place until such time that the contractor can return with the necessary equipment and safely remove from the foot or cycle path concerned. The old lighting column has been made safe and will be removed.

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