Anger over the plan to convert Westminster’s historic gas street lights to LEDs | London

Two centuries after the first gas lights appeared on the streets of London and cast a romantic glow through the darkness, a few hundred remain in some of the capital’s most historic areas.

But not for long. Westminster City Council plans to convert 299 gas lamps to electricity as LED lights are greener and easier to maintain.

The plan is rejected by a group of local residents who believe the council’s reasons are “wrong”. Their campaign is supported by architectural historian Dan Cruickshank, who said the introduction of gas street lamps in the early 19th century “changed city life” and was “a defining moment in the history of London”.

The council plans to electrify its gas lighting in the next two years, in part in response to the climate emergency. It says its replacement LED lights “recreate the aesthetics of gas lighting and don’t significantly alter the appearance of the area.”

A spokesman said the council also has a “duty to keep street lighting in good condition and to keep lighting levels at a set standard. Unfortunately, gas lighting is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain and does not provide enough light to illuminate the highway. Alternatives to electrification were investigated, but none achieved the required CO2 reduction, cost efficiency and illuminance. “

Local residents have told the city council that they “strongly disapprove” of the plan. Michael Young, who lives on a street with multiple gas lamps, said it was an “emotional issue.” The lights are “a charming feature of the area” and replacing them would mean “losing something historical”.

Chris Sugg, a descendant of William Sugg, whose company of the same name started installing gas street lamps in London and elsewhere from 1837, said his great-great-grandfather would “turn in his grave” at the suggestion.

“Westminster is the oldest gas-lit city in the world … and so has a responsibility to history to keep the original – or at least the remainder of many iterations and developments of this luminaire,” he wrote on his blog.

Cruickshank, a writer and broadcaster who was involved in a successful campaign to save gas street lights in Covent Garden in the 1970s, said the cost of maintaining the lights was a real problem, but “it can be done if there is a will gives”.

The gas lights are “intensely romantic” with a quality of light that is difficult to reproduce with electricity, he said.

“The first gas lamps appeared on Westminster Bridge around 1819. They changed city life by making the streets safer. Your introduction was a significant moment in London history, ”he said.

He said the environmental impact of switching from gas to electricity would be offset by the need to “dig up the roads to lay new cables” and the carbon footprint associated with making new lamps.

There are around 1,500 gas streetlights in the capital, including hundreds in royal parks and palaces that are beyond the control of the council.

In Malvern, Worcestershire, the town’s historic gas street lights were rescued after local activists found a way to make them more energy efficient. Instead of a constantly burning control lamp, the lamps were equipped with an electronic ignition.

Around 25,000 gas lanterns will be preserved in Berlin, with gas light tours on foot, by bus and bike. Prague has about 700 working gas street lights, and four – made by William Sugg and Co – are still in use in Hong Kong

Almost half of Westminster gas lamps intended to be converted to electricity are listed, meaning changes will require the approval of Historic England.

A spokesman said: “Historic England has reached an agreement with the Westminster Council to replace historic gas lighting with gas-effect LED lighting. We know the Council is looking for a sensitive solution that takes into account the historic character of Westminster and its needs for street lighting … We look forward to further discussions in the months ahead. “

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