Alston’s isolation “tax”

Date: Monday 7th August 2017

Sir, Thank you for your article “Council to pull the plug on hundreds of lights” (Herald, 22nd July). I also spoke at the council that night but obviously not vehemently or loquaciously enough to sway the vote. The devolution paper and the footway light paper debated that night to some extent go hand in hand.

I remember very clearly when, having just recently been elected to Eden District Council in 2011, we were given a briefing by our engineer which laid out the problems we would be facing as a council in continuing to fund all the footway lights in Eden. It was completely unsustainable.

So, a great deal of work was put in by the then portfolio holder and officers. As a result, an officer was employed specifically to visit all of Eden accompanied by the portfolio holder, along with other members of the executive, local member/s and parish councillors, to determine which lights should be retained and which would be allowed to remain until such time as they failed.

It was suggested at the time that the parish councils may like to take these lights on. Devolution of services began to be talked about. Under the current administration devolution has been talked about a lot and a working group set up to look at devolution of services to parishes.

I was a part of that group and found it very interesting to talk to various parishes and find out their views on this subject. The council approved the report that the group submitted, and the same group was to continue with looking at devolution and finding out costs and so forth. Unfortunately, as all of us bar the portfolio holder missed the second meeting, he decided to continue with the work himself and not involve the rest of us

Devolution is for non-mandatory services. Some of these aren’t too onerous to take over, such as clocks. Some are extraordinarily difficult. Some are a very convenient way of getting rid of something the district council doesn’t want to do, such as footway lighting.

I know, because I have had conversations with the leader about devolution, that he considers that footway lights are a local issue, for town and parish councils. I vehemently disagree as I consider that councils should be providing services, but I am in a minority.

I fully agree with all Mike Tonkin said about the small villages and the cost of buying and running lights. For some towns, too, this policy is completely unaffordable.

Alston Moor has a total of 144 lights. It was agreed which of these would be retained, which gave a total of 53. Now it seems we are to have none.

There is the offer under devolution that Eden will install columns with LEDs for those parishes that are willing to take on the running of them. We are assured that the LEDs cost very little to run, which then to me begs the question of why can’t Eden District Council run them if the cost is so slight.

Eden is a well resourced council and providing this low-cost lighting would be a tremendous help to its residents and visitors. I find this offer shocking. It feels like bullying.

The Conservative candidate at the recent hustings in Alston said that Alston Moor should be a special case as he felt there was an “Alston tax” in that it costs a lot to get to services — people have to travel distances to work, leisure centres, cinema and so forth — so we should get more from Eden.

With this decision of the council there most certainly will be an “Alston tax” as we will now have to pay to run the footway lights that it had been previously agreed would be retained, never mind the ones that we were going to lose originally.

Some Penrith councillors may have voted for this footway light report to be passed. The vast majority of Penrith lights are provided by Cumbria County Council. I sincerely hope that they enjoy their well-lit streets and that Cumbria doesn’t ever decide to do the same.

As in the small villages, Alston Moor cannot possibly fund 144 or even 53 lights. More and more is being asked of parishes simply because they can raise money from the parish precept. This is the real “Alston tax”.

Alston already had the public toilets for Alston station, Nenthead and Garrigill “devolved” to us well over six years ago and now we are expected to bear the costs of running some 53 footway lights as well (and I am certain that 53 lights will not be adequate for our needs).

I feel that the whole process from start to finish has been disingenuous. Yours etc,

PAT GODWIN

(Independent Eden councillor for Alston Moor)

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