Failure sparks safety fears

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 11:12 27/07/2014
Lights out
WARWICK SMITH/Fairfax NZ
LIGHTS OUT: Faults in Palmerston North's street lights have been taking longer to fix since PowerCo added an extra step in its reporting process.

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Some Palmerston North streets have been in the dark for weeks, exposing residents to safety risks, after power line and cable owner Powerco changed its street-light fault- reporting system.

Palmerston North police prevention officer Inspector Brett Calkin is urging an end to the delays in the interests of road safety and crime prevention.

After nearly two months of frustration, the city has received an apology from Powerco about delays resulting from implementation of the new system, and a promise to do better.

"Powerco wishes to apologise to the Palmerston North City Council and the people of Palmerston North for the inconvenience caused by these delays in effecting repairs," said acting network operations manager Dean Stevenson.

Council project engineer Rob Cuff said getting line and cable faults fixed had been taking four weeks or more since the new system was brought in, whereas they used to be dealt with in one to two weeks.

The number of complaints received about blocks of lights, where the problem related to the cabling, had risen markedly.

In May, there were eight such complaints received. That increased to 45 in June, and there had been 30 up to July 18. Many of the complaints related to multiple reports of the same problem.

The figures were released to the Manawatu Standard under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, with Powerco given a day's notice about the release.

Cuff said Powerco told the council about its new street-light fault- reporting system in May.

At that time, customers could call the council's call centre, and the council would forward the complaint directly to Powerco, which would dispatch someone to deal with the fault.

The new system required council's call centre to contact energy retailer Contact, which contacted Powerco's new faults system, before someone was sent out.

Cuff said at first, there were telephone delays getting through to Contact, but that improved through use of email. The problem then landed squarely in Powerco's court.

It had taken most of the month to repair faults that were on the books at the beginning of July.

Some of the worst affected areas were Carter Cres, Humphries Place, Alfred St, Francis Way, Milton St, Browning Place, Battersea Place and the Globe car park in Main St.

Lighting had been restored in all the residential streets when the Standard checked.

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Stevenson said Powerco understood the importance of a safe and reliable supply of electricity to the street lights, and that the changes were designed to increase efficiency and improve customer service levels.

"Unfortunately, the transition to the new process has resulted in a number of instances where street- lighting faults on the network have not been dealt with in a timely manner."

Stevenson said Powerco was taking immediate action to improve performance, and expected future street-lighting faults would be dealt with more promptly.

Calkin said the council and other parties had to ensure street lights were fixed as a matter of urgency.

"Dark places are havens for criminals and criminal offending, and keeping good street lighting in place makes our suburbs a lot safer."

Calkin said police on patrol regularly reported any faulty street lights they saw, not only when there was an incident or burglary, but because they were often the first to notice.

The delays had not affected the replacement of street-light bulbs, with the council able to dispatch contractors directly within five days of receiving a complaint.

- Manawatu Standard

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