Lighting the way

Coventry’s streetlighting PFI shows how cutting edge technology need not cost the earth, says Karen Seager, group highways manager, Coventry City Council

When the Labour government announced in November 2005 that £600m in PFI credits
would be available to address the continuing problems of deterioration in streetlighting stock, we knew in Coventry that we had to bid for a share.

We were keen to use the PFI money to boost the street lighting infrastructure, making a significant contribution towards creating a better city. And we recognised the importance of effective project management in achieving the required outcomes, as well as the successful delivery of the streetlighting service improvements.

As part of this effort, we followed the gateway process – introduced into the local authority sector by the predecessor to Local Partnerships, 4ps – throughout the project development and procurement processes.

We were one of 15 authorities to use the process, which saw 4ps act as agent for all for the contracting councils. The agency conducted one, joint pre-qualification exercise for all of the contract opportunities advertised. Each authority, whether procuring singularly or in a group, then formally determined its appropriate longlist of contractors, which were pre-qualified for their advertised contract.

We conducted soft market testing interviews and meetings which confirmed that Coventry was attractive to bidders and would therefore generate the necessary level of interest to ensure adequate competition.

Our Outline Business Case set out our initial expected outputs. These did not originally include technology to centrally manage our streetlights. However, the business case did say it expected the PFI contract to deliver significant innovation – both in terms of initial design, as well as value for money in the delivery of the associated operational service contract across the city.

Bidders were actively encouraged to advise us of any potential innovative solutions during the competitive dialogue period. The aim of this was to develop and refine any technical solutions at a later date.

We were first introduced to the possibility of including a Central Management System (CMS) at the detailed solutions stage of tendering. We were excited by this option, which would mean that we could control streetlighting remotely – and could even raise and dim the city’s streetlights according to changing local needs. One of the great advantages of this is it can significantly contribute to efforts to reduce energy consumption and associated carbon emissions.

Despite our initial enthusiasm we originally ruled CMS out because it was a new and untested technology, which was very expensive to install. However, following a series of presentations facilitated by Local Partnerships, it became apparent that other authorities were looking at similar dimming technologies, seeking to rationalise their lighting stock and even switching off their lights for some or all of the hours of darkness.

It became clear that while this technology may have high upfront costs, it could help address the cost of rising energy prices and reduce carbon emissions.

Finally, in the year between our detailed solutions and final stage of tendering, the technology had developed at such a rapid pace that we decided to incorporate a CMS to the bidders during the final phase of dialogue prior to the call for final tenders.

The initial discussions on the CMS as a viable solution centred solely on the city centre and main traffic routes. But as dialogue proceeded and the procurement moved towards final tender, various scenarios were modelled, including looking at the whole life cost of a CMS for part of the city compared to a city-wide solution. The energy and carbon savings were also modelled. This combined information led us to include a city-wide system as part of our Call for Final Tender documentation.

The current energy profile indicates that the dimming regimes being introduced, together with the use of more energy efficient lamps, will result in a 38% reduction in energy consumption at the end of the five year core investment programme. Dimming will also result in an increase in a lamp’s anticipated life and reduce maintenance visits and costs.

The other big advantage of having a city-wide CMS is that it will be possible to increase the brightness of lights as well as dim them. For example, if there is a major incident on the highway they will be able to be changed to increase the lighting levels to assist the emergency services.

Temporarily increasing lighting levels will also aid in the movement of pedestrians leaving a sporting event, concert or nightclub, safely and quickly. We hope to make good use of this when Coventry welcomes the world for Olympic football in 2012.

As the first new streetlight is to be installed early in 2011, we are looking forward to a long and successful partnership with Balfour Beatty and we will continue to work together in assessing any future advancement in lighting technology developments.

“Coventry City Council adopted a pragmatic approach in dialogue with the bidders in terms of reasonableness and value for money,” said a Balfour Beatty spokesperson. “The competitive dialogue process proved to be an excellent vehicle in facilitating this change to the scope of the project.”

The project reached financial close in August this year, with Balfour Beatty contributing £6m towards the scheme.