Lancashire's hanging baskets and Christmas bunting 'saved' after U-turn over lamppost testing fees

Lancashire’s parish councils will no longer have to pay to test the strength of the lampposts that they want to use for hanging baskets and Christmas decorations - provided they give highways bosses enough notice of their plans.

There was widespread disquiet amongst the county’s smallest local authorities earlier this year when it emerged that they would be charged £55 for an assessment of any lighting column over seven years old in order to ensure that it was structurally sound enough to take the additional weight of the item to be hung from it.

Lancashire County Council, which is responsible for most of the road network in its patch, said at the time that public safety demanded that the tests were carried out - and insisted that the authority had always passed on the cost associated with them.

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However, as the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) revealed back in March, several parish and town councils claimed that they had never been billed for the service before - and warned that it risked putting a dampener on everything from summertime street displays to Christmas celebrations.READ MORE >» 'Blooming heck': Why Lancashire County Council wants proof that hanging baskets and Christmas bunting will not topple lampposts .

Railway Street in Adlington in full bloom (image: Google)

But the authority has now told parished parts of Lancashire, as well as charitable groups, that it will absorb the cost of the assessments for seasonal or one-off events - as long as they advise County Hall of them at least 10 weeks in advance. A recent county council cabinet meeting heard that such notice would allow the necessary examinations of the streetlights to be incorporated into the routine and ongoing testing of all of Lancashire’s lampposts.

“Our new policy is designed to make it more straightforward and cost effective for people to apply for permission - with the emphasis on getting your application in early,” said County Cllr Charlie Edwards, cabinet member for highways and transport.

He acknowledged that there had been “strong feedback” on the previous policy, which had now been amended as a result - a reflection, he said, of the county authority’s willingness to listen and improve our ways of working” and its desire to ensure that Lancashire could mark next year’s coronation of King Charles III in style.

“We want Lancashire to do what it does best - come together as communities. The change we are bringing forward…will allow us to do just that,” County Cllr Edwards said.

Adlington parish councillor Kevin O'Donnell says "common sense" has prevailed over charges for lamppost tests

Some parishes claimed in the spring that their forthcoming commemorations of the Queen’s platinum jubilee would be blunted by the cost of testing.

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The cabinet meeting heard that testing fees would be waived for Christmas bunting and lights this year because it was already well within the 10-week notice period before the festive festoons were likely to start appearing.

However, the LDRS understands that at least one authority which paid for structural tests under the previous arrangements is now going to be demanding its money back from County Hall. Adlington Town Council shelled out over £2,000 earlier this year so that it could still display its 40 hanging baskets in their traditional place on lampposts alongside the A6 and Railway Road.

Cllr Kevin O’Donnell - who was then the town's mayor - condemned the charging decision as “dogmatic”. He has now welcomed the rethink and praised the county council for showing some “common sense”, which will mean Adlington can remain in bloom each summer without breaking the bank when re-tests were needed every three to six years. But he says that the parish budget should not be left lighter now that County Hall has done a policy pirouette.

It was feared that many of Lancashire's lampposts could be be left bereft of hanging baskets in summer and bunting at Christmastime
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“We’re going to approach them and ask for a refund. We're not exactly rolling in cash and we could put the money to good use locally, [supporting] good causes, Cllr O’Donnell said.

County Cllr Edwards told the LDRS that he would be happy to arrange for the parish to be reimbursed “so that more funding is available for them to benefit their community".

Similarly, Fleetwood Town Council previously said that it would struggling to bear the cost of ensuring that local lampposts could bear the load of the enhancements that are attached to them at Christmastime and during the summer.

Lorraine Beavers - both a Fleetwood town councillor and deputy leader of the Labour opposition group on the county council - told the cabinet meeting at County Hall that the town authority had already commissioned tests due to take place this month.

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County Cllr Charlie Edwards admitted that there had been a "strong" reaction to the fee to be levied on parish and town councils to test lampposts

She said she hoped that that money could now be used for other local projects - and County Cllr Edwards said that he would help find “a solution” to the situation.

The authority’s chair, Cheryl Raynor, told the LDRS that the authority had since been advised that it would not have to pay the fee and she also welcomed new guidance on street decorations which has been issued by County Hall.Under the new policy, testing will not be required for lightweight correx-type signs, the like of which are often used as part of remembrance commemorations for poppy displays.

If less than 10 weeks’ notice is provided of an event, County Hall says it can arrange tests at a cost of £48 per lamppost for up to 10 columns, with the price reducing the more streetlights that require an assessment.County Cllr Edwards said he would also encourage “district-wide” applications for testing on a borough-by-borough basis to cover those parts of Lancashire which do not have a parish or town council.

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The county council will continue to require any group attaching items to streetlamps to apply for licences to do so - irrespective of whether they are exempt from a testing charge. Previously, it has not charged for such permits, but will now levy a fee of £70 which will secure a licence that lasts for 30 months.Cabinet members were told that there was currently “poor compliance” with the licence requirement - as reflected by the fact that there were only three applications for decorations for events surrounding the platinum jubilee. Where unlicensed attachments are found, highways officials can remove them until a permit has been granted.

Licence applications require four weeks’ notice and their approval will be dependent upon evidence of at least £10m worth of public liability insurance being in place, as well as a commitment to removing the items by a stipulated date.

That idea - one of several put forward by the authority’s new environment, economic growth and transport scrutiny committee - would help avoid “street clutter”, County Cllr Edwards said.

Commenting in general on the new policy, he added: “Parish and town councils have a legal duty to check with the county council before using a streetlight for this purpose and this gives us the chance to check everything is okay before they go ahead. These procedures ensure that the organiser and the public are protected if the worst happens.”

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IN NUMBERS

151,000 - approximate number of streetlights in Lancashire

29,000 - number of streetlights that are over 40 years old as of March 2022, up from 14,665 two years earlier

15,000 - number of streetlights that are less than seven years old, the threshold above which testing is required before anything can be hung from them

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£70 - cost of new licence for hanging items from lampposts, which lasts for 30 months.