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Streetlights on electricity poles

The North West’s electricity network is owned, operated and maintained by Electricity North West. Streetlights are owned, operated and maintained by local authorities.

Before the electricity networks were nationalised in 1947, local power networks were operated by a number of local corporations and councils. These organisations were often responsible for both the electricity network and streetlights – and allowed electricity poles to double up as lampposts.

As the networks were nationalised, and later privatised, these historic arrangements continued without any formal review. This left a number of local authority lights attached to private electricity network operators’ poles.

What’s the problem?

When both the electricity equipment and lighting equipment was owned, operated and maintained by the same organisation the management of safety risks was achieved by training operators to work on both assets.

Now that different organisations are responsible for the different equipment, risks are increased due to the lack of training or responsibility for the other organisation’s equipment.

If a local authority wants to maintain a streetlight on an electricity pole, they will be working on equipment that they are not in control of, at height, near live electricity lines. We do not believe that this is safe.

Safety and the law

Safety legislation has also changed a great deal since these poles were installed – a pole is classed in law as ‘a place of work’ and Electricity North West therefore has a legal duty to ensure the safety of anyone working on our poles, whether they are working on our equipment or not.

This was proved in a case from 2001 when BT engineer, Tara Whelan, died after falling from a pole attached to a Scottish and Southern Energy/BT joint-services pole in Wiltshire in 2001. In 2006, the Health and Safety Executive prosecuted both SSE and BT for health and safety breaches in relation to the case.

We do not believe that we can ensure safety where we are not in control of who is accessing our poles.  Having considered these risks carefully, and having taken legal advice, we will fulfil our legal duty to ensure safety by progressively removing the risk.   

What are we doing about it?

Over the past twenty years the vast majority of lamps have already been removed from poles but in some rural areas lamps remain attached to poles.

We are not seeking to immediately remove all street lights from our poles as we understand the potential impact on rural areas. We have been working with local authorities for over three years to keep them updated on our maintenance programme that will gradually remove lights from our poles over the next twenty years.

Where poles with lights attached need replacing, we will give the local authority at least six months’ notice that when the pole is replaced, the lights will not be reinstated.

  • Lights will not be removed from poles that do not need replacing.
  • We will give local authorities six months’ notice of our intention to replace poles and remove any of their attachments.
  • Where a pole does need replacing, and we have given the local authority six months’ notice, we will not transfer any third party attachments to the new pole.
  • We are working closely with local authorities, particularly those in Cumbria who are most affected, to keep them informed of our programme of work.

How many street lights will be removed from electricity poles?

The historic practice of attaching lights to the electricity network is most widespread in rural areas, so in our region, the highest number of local authority lights on electricity poles is in Cumbria. Of the 54,508 street lights in Cumbria, 2,670 (under 5%) are attached to electricity poles.

The funding we are providing will allow more than half of the lamps affected by our programme to be replaced with modern low energy columns that will deliver lasting benefits and energy savings to the local authorities should they choose to do so.

Major incident

Engineers are working to restore power to properties after severe flooding in Lancashire and Rochdale.

We are doing everything we can to restore power and we'll update you regularly on our news section and TwitterFor emergencies, please call us on 0800 195 4141.