Budget cuts may mean no street lighting in parts of the North

Tens of thousands of street lights in the North could be out over winter due to budget cuts, a minister has warned.

The department in charge of roads and street lighting is having to save £15m (€18m) and will not be able to pay private contractors for repairing broken lamps.

The two largest parties in Stormont’s ministerial executive, Sinn Féin and the DUP, are at loggerheads over whether to implement the Coalition’s so-called bedroom tax and a failure to break the deadlock could result in a more widespread cull of public services this autumn.

The North's roads Minister Danny Kennedy said: “This has the potential to result in tens of thousands of street lights being out across Northern Ireland over the winter period.”

It is unlikely that all lights will fail during the dark days and evenings of winter and an in-house contractor at Mr Kennedy’s Department for Regional Development will endeavour to keep the road network in as safe a condition as possible.

He is a member of the Ulster Unionist Party, which is in mandatory coalition government with Sinn Féin and the DUP but which can be outvoted on major decisions by the two larger parties.

The Newry and Armagh MLA abstained from the Executive’s budget vote last week.

He also said he has had to stop approving some new work on road and footpath maintenance, pothole patching, gully emptying, grass cutting and traffic sign maintenance.

The minister added: “I have also had to take the difficult decision to stop funding external contractors for the repair of street lamps that fail, unless they pose an electrical hazard to members of the public.”

Stormont departments, excluding health and education, are to have their budgets cut by £78m (€98m).

The figures were revealed at a meeting of the executive to balance the books between departments.

Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has also warned that further cuts, amounting to £87m (€109m), will be required if a deal on welfare reform is not agreed.

Sinn Féin has adamantly opposed the changes imposed by Westminster, which would see state housing benefits for those renting homes with an extra room cut.

Supporters refer to the policy as an effort to tackle the “spare room subsidy”, but critics have dubbed it the “bedroom tax”.

The DUP has been pressing for the change to be adopted in Northern Ireland and the British Treasury is threatening to impose the £87 million penalty for inaction in January.

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