Shaftesbury Town Councillors have narrowly turned down a proposal to add four new streetlights to the narrowest stretch of Hawkesdene Lane.
Planning meeting Chairman Lester Taylor acknowledged that the debate had weighed up the risk of light pollution against safety concerns, when he used his casting vote. The cost of street light installation was also a factor for some councillors.
Councillor John Lewer told Tuesday’s Town Council meeting that he considered the 60m unlit lower stretch of Hawkesdene Lane to be potentially unsafe. “In the dark, it’s a very dangerous section of road. It’s been made worse recently by the upgrading of lighting at either side of it in Layton Lane and upper Hawkesdene Lane. The streetlights there are fairly bright and when you go into the section up that steep hill between the two stone walls, it’s like plunging into pitch darkness. The contrast is significant. A couple of well placed lights on that section of road would make it much safer,” Cllr Lewer said.
Cllr Philip Proctor was concerned at the risk to pupils walking along the lane between St James and Shaftesbury School. But Mayor Piers Brown questioned the need for the lights. He said that he grew up in rural North Dorset where there wasn’t lighting.
Resident Sue Clifford voiced her concerns about the impact of extra lighting on the nearby Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which is hoping to achieve Dark Skies status. Sue spoke during the public participation section of the meeting and she wasn’t convinced that lights would improve road safety.
“Most of us know how to drive carefully in those places and if we don’t then we must be taught. I don’t think we will be taught by putting lights in at night. People are driving there too fast in the day, I fear. I have experienced it in the daytime,” Sue said.
Sue suggested that walkers might wish to wear bright clothing. Her main concern was that new lights would alter the character of an ancient Shaftesbury thoroughfare. “It’s really important because it’s one of the very many sunken lanes that make their way up into Shaftesbury. Some are just walks. Some are roads. I’m not terribly keen on lights going down that patch partly because they will want to cut back the trees and one of the great things is that the trees arch over the road. They encompass you and envelop you. It’s a wonderful feeling as you go down or come up,” Sue said.
Sue said that she expected to use a torch when she walked at night in the unlit part of Shaftesbury where she lives. But John Lewer didn’t agree that Hawkesdene Lane could be considered rural. “It is an urban street and people don’t go out with torches to walk around the town. They expect street lighting.”
John said that he understood the environmental concerns but the newer LED street lighting had addressed the issue of glare. “They are very directional so the stray light going up is very much reduced. I don’t think the stray light is an issue and it has to be balanced against safety when people are walking.”
But John also felt that Dorset County Council Highway’s estimated £24,000 fee for the street lighting was excessive. Councillors questioned why the Town Council would have to pay, as lights were Dorset’s responsibility. Town Clerk Claire Commons explained that this section of Hawkesdene Lane had never been lit, so the county didn’t have to provide lighting.
Cllr Lewer felt that the omission of this stretch of road was an oversight and Dorset’s reasoning was invalid. He accepted that there had not been an accident but if there was then the County could be considered responsible.
Mayor Piers Brown felt that the quoted fee could not be justified. “The cost equated to around 5% of the Council’s annual turnover. And I didn’t feel that the payoff was there for the public at large,” Piers said. “Cars have lights on the front of them. If it was a risk, within the definitions of the Highways Authority, then they would have done this already. There aren’t any reported accidents. The evidence leads towards their not being a need for them at this point,” Piers added.
Cllr Proctor suggested that the compromise between installing four lights and having no lights could be two lights, and that they could be installed more cheaply on existing poles. Members debated whether lighting could be achieved for £500.
When it came to the vote, John Lewer and Philip Proctor backed investigating a cheaper solution for new lights. Piers Brown and Lester Taylor voted against the installation of streetlamps. Cllr Taylor used his casting vote to break the deadlock and keep Hawkesdene Lane dark.