About 600 lights have been fixed to date, following 17 lights falling to the ground over the past four years.
Mayor Tory Whanau and City Councillors were briefed today on work to remove the part of the light that is faulty, an aluminium-alloy adaptor that’s part of the structure attaching LED lamps to poles around the city. The adaptors are not suited to Wellington’s strong winds, causing the lamps, which weigh up to 11.2kg, to either droop or, in worst cases, detach and fall to the ground.
Seventeen lamps have been confirmed as having fallen to the ground in the past four years – a situation that Mayor Whanau today said presented “a clear and unacceptable safety risk”.
“I urge anyone who sees a drooping light to notify us on 04 499 4444 straight away and the Council will fix the light within two hours of it being reported, weather permitting.”
About 17,000 LED streetlights with adaptors, were installed across the city in 2018. All of the adaptors will ultimately be removed. The Council is aiming to complete the work within 12 months.
In February this year, the City Council commissioned engineering laboratory WSP to stress-test a sample of the fixtures. The testing showed that, despite the adaptors being able to carry a static load of up to 60kg, they were unsuitable for Wellington’s windy conditions and were fatiguing over time.
The testing also strongly indicated that, contrary to earlier assessment, all adaptors have the potential to fail, although the heavier adaptors in the city’s windiest areas are most at risk.
City Council Chief Infrastructure Officer Siobhan Procter says removal of the adaptors is a top priority.
“We are working as hard and fast as we can to solve this issue. Approximately 600 adaptors have been removed to date with more lights being fixed every day.
“This work is currently being done by the Council’s maintenance contractors and we are going through a procurement process to get additional resource. The exact timeframe to fix the network will depend on contractor availability but it is absolutely a priority for us,” says Ms Procter.
The adaptors were originally incorporated into the fixtures to allow the streetlamps to be adjusted to reduce glare into nearby properties. The Council added this feature to accommodate Wellington’s hilly topography.
The adaptors can be removed, and the streetlamps reattached directly to the outreach arm. Ms Procter says scoping of the project indicates it will cost about $6 million to complete and the Council is seeking funding assistance from Waka Kotahi. The Council intends to fund its share through borrowing.
Ms Procter says staff were aware that a small number of lamps - between two and five - fell to the ground each year between 2019 and 2023. The Council had understood the issue was not widespread.
“It’s clear our processes at the time weren’t up to scratch. We’ve now made significant improvements in this area to avoid this issue happening again. Our community expects better, and we expect better,” Ms Procter says.
By the numbers:
17,000 streetlights that have the faulty adaptors.
17 lights have been reported as falling to the ground.
161 lights have been reported as drooping.
600 lights fixed to date.
2 hours to fix lights once reported.
Background - why did the Council change the streetlights?
The Council began work in 2018 to change all existing high-pressure sodium lights to more energy-efficient and brighter LEDs. This project had tight timeframes as the Council was able to receive an 85% subsidy from Waka Kotahi for the project, saving the Council around $15 million, if completed by 30 June 2018.
There was some concern, due to Wellington’s often hilly topography, that the brighter LEDs could cause glare issues, especially for property owners immediately adjacent to lamp posts.
To proactively address the issue of glare, the Council contracted the construction of aluminium-alloy adaptors that connect the lamps to the pole - allowing a greater degree of tilt, thereby allowing for greater control over light spillage or glare.
When was the Council first notified of the issue?
The Council first noticed drooping of streetlights in late 2018 via reports from members of the public. The Council brought this to the attention of the manufacturer, which undertook an investigation to determine the cause of the issue. The manufacturer replaced a number of broken adaptors free of charge as a gesture of goodwill but assessed that it wasn’t a widespread issue.
Council staff were alerted again to the issue in October 2020 by maintenance contractors. However, it was still not thought to be a widespread issue due to the isolated instances of failure.