Up to 1,000 streetlights were left burning 24 hours a day due to faults, it has been revealed.
The Department of Regional Development (DRD), responsible for roads and lighting, said that the raft of lights formed part of a backlog of repair work which its staff had been busy resolving over recent months.
Alex Easton, DUP member of Stormont’s transport committee, condemned the waste of electricity and said there was “no excuse” for them not having been fixed.
It had been reported in January that around 20,000 streetlights – slightly over seven per cent of the total across Northern Ireland – were broken.
It came after DRD Minister Danny Kennedy announced in November that he had been forced to suspend the use of contractors to carry out repairs due to budget cuts.
The News Letter was then contacted by a reader last week to say that many of the lights were broken in the sense that they remained on during the day, as well as after dark.
When asked if this was true, the DRD said in a statement: “TransportNI (the body within the department tasked with roads issues) appreciates the environmental implication of lights burning constantly and would like the public to understand that it is safer to have lights on 24/7 than no lights at all.
“TransportNI staff are currently working to complete all outstanding repairs.”
Pressed further about the number of lights which had been left on constantly, it said that most of those 20,000 broken streetlights have been out completely.
“We do not have an exact number of lights that were on 24/7, but estimate that they would have been less than five per cent of the total number of defective street lights,” it told the News Letter.
“Since the department received additional funding from the Executive for street lighting repairs in mid-January, our contractors and staff have been working flat out to clear the backlog of repairs that accumulated over the autumn and winter months.
“The number of lights out is now down to under 15,000 and falling daily.
“It is hoped to have the majority of the backlog cleared by the end of April.”
It did not say specifically what proportion of those 15,000 unfixed lights were still burning on a constant basis.
Mr Easton said he would submit a written question to the Assembly to that effect.
However, the DRD added that some lights are left switched on during daylight hours to be tested.
Alex Easton, DUP MLA for North Down, said: “We’re in a world where we’re trying to get away from fossil fuels as much as possible... The more electricity you burn, the more fossil fuels you’re burning, and the more it will cost us in the long term in terms of our environment.”
He said that extra money had been pledged to the DRD recently as part of the monitoring round, specifically aimed at light repairs, adding: “There’s no excuse for this not to have been resolved”.
He also expressed concern about the added financial costs of streetlights being left on 24 hours a day.
The News Letter had asked about costs, but was told by the DRD: “There is no added financial cost to the department” – although it was not clear at time of writing why this would be so.