We cautiously welcome the news that Westminster City Council has dropped plans to electrify all of its remaining gas lamps.
We have been overwhelmed by the extraordinary outpouring of support from every imaginable quarter. Not just people who live and work in Westminster, but people from all around the world - a reminder that London is a world city, and Westminster's heritage belongs to everyone.
We've heard from architects and historians, cabbies and tour guides, we've had support from across the political spectrum, from our local MP to the GMB Union, and most of all we've been backed by people who just love their city. It turns out that gas lamps are a surprisingly emotive subject.
However, the council states: "Concerns remain around growing delays experienced in repairing the gas pipes which service these lamps. This leaves some streets in darkness for extended periods and poses a genuine safety risk for residents and visitors. We will work with suppliers and partners such as Cadent Gas to resolve this issue. However, we may need to electrify other gas lamps where we face lengthy delays to repairs or it becomes too costly or unsafe not to."
That is not good enough.
It leaves the door open for the piecemeal removal of gas lamps at a later date when nobody is looking. We want a firm commitment from the council for their long-term preservation. The wording of which lamps are safe (for now) is also ambiguous.
We are also concerned about the timing. A decision was made within 48 hours of the closure of a consultation which the council states received 1250 responses. How has there been time to go through them in detail? How has the decision been made about which lamps to keep, and which to axe? Which heritage and local amenity bodies advised? Based on the council’s previous failure of process, we will want to see a list of the lamps which are currently for the chop, to ensure that none of them are rare and important models or in sensitive locations, which the council has not fully appreciated.
Of course, if all 275 gas lamps accounted for 0.0088% of the borough’s carbon emissions, then 94 lamps account for 0.0030%. It’s getting silly. And if 174 lamps are to be maintained, it makes more sense to retain all 275. What unique problems afflict the lamps which are under sentence? And maintaining a critical mass of lamps – to support the skilled lamplighters – is vital.
We’re glad that the council now acknowledges that their original position was untenable, but the devil is in the detail.
The London Gasketeers will not be disbanding any time soon.
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