Plug pulled on festive lights

COLDSTREAM and Duns had their Christmas lights connections removed by Scottish Borders Council last week and other communities across the Borders are likely to find themselves in a similar position if they source the electricity from street light columns.

In Coldstream’s case the lights were connected to the town’s lamp posts by qualified electricians with the permission of SBC, and the town’s Gateway Trust, who fund the Christmas lights and the summer planting, also pay for the electricity used.

Days before removing the connectors for the Coldstream lights the council was forced to apologise to Innerleithen residents for doing exactly the same thing without giving the community prior notice and the new director of environment and infrastructure Rob Dickson said: “We have now written to all affected community groups to inform them of the proposed arrangements before carrying out any other work to make connections safer.”

However, prior notice turned out to be less than 24 hours notice. The day before Coldstream’s Christmas lights were disconnected the community council received a general letter from SBC’s infrastructure manager, Colin Ovens in which he said: “A survey of existing festive lighting arrangements has raised serious concerns over the safety and legality of many of the connections to the adopted road lighting system. Immediate action is now being taken to address those connections which are deemed unsafe.”

Speaking to ‘The Berwickshire News’ Mr Ovens would not be drawn on whether individual town’s festive lights were considered dangerous or not, stressing that “a general view was taken”.

However, he admitted: “Perhaps there should have been better communication and we have apologised for that.

“I know it may come across as heavy handed but there is a definite commitment from the council to build on what is already in place. In no way are we looking to reduce what’s there, provided by communities already. We are just looking at it being provided in another way.

“We will be holding meetings as soon as we possibly can with the communities affected. We will be coming to them and asking what they want.”

What communities want is their Christmas lights to go up as usual at the end of the year, and this should be possible provided lighting columns are not overloaded and the fixings on walls and buildings are considered safe.

Safety, non compliance with legislation and the risk of prosecution for theft of electricity prompted the council to act - even before councillors had had a chance to discuss the issue.

Councillors were told after the event: “All unofficial festive lighting arrangements connected into our adopted lighting network, whether or not they appear to be outwith industry standards, should immediately be permanently disconnected and made safe.”

On Tuesday the council’s executive agreed to a £400,000 scheme to provide permanent safe festive light connections over the next two years. In the meantime short term arrangements are to be made to ensure that communities such as Coldstream and Duns can continue to enjoy their Christmas lights this year.

Coldstream & District Community council chairman Martin Brims took a dim view of how the council has handled the matter: “A number of concerned residents have approached me to lodge their disquiet at SBC’s actions.

“From this it is abundantly clear that people are angry, bemused and feeling particularly let down by the actions of SBC. Equally, they are surprised that no meaningful prior consultation took place.”

The Duns ‘Erection Section’ who put up the lights, were completely unaware that the connections had been removed and Stuart Renton said: “I’m very disappointed with them that they did it without any contact with ourselves.”