A MOTORWAY boss has said it would be ‘impossible’ to switch the M65 lights back on without a completely new system costing £2m.
East Lancashire MP Andrew Stephenson said the admission from the Highways Agency, which manages a section of the motorway, meant it was in a ‘no way back situation’.
And the fiancée of a man who died on the stretch just days after complaining how dark the road was, has branded the circumstances ‘disgusting’ and ‘a joke’.
The Lancashire Telegraph launched its Turn The Lights On campaign at the end of November after the death of Burnley-born Mark Burgess, 39, near junction eight of the M65.
The father-of-two’s car smashed into the barrier and, although it is not known if lighting was a factor in that incident, motorists who crashed into the debris said they were unable to see it because the road was so dark.
Just days before the crash, Mr Burgess himself had complained to his fiancée about how dark the road was and described it as an 'accident waiting to happen'.
But Matt Sweeting, the Highways Agency's divisional director based in Manchester, told the Lancashire Telegraph the lights could not be switched back on.
He said this was because the columns had been allowed to come to the end of their working lives after it was deemed safe enough to permanently switch off the lights between junctions seven and 10.
He said factors such as improved headlights on cars, shorter stopping distances and drivers’ competency improving were reasons for the road becoming ‘safer’.
Mr Sweeting said: “With the full switch off, we have decommissioned the lights and they cannot be used anymore.”
Mr Burgess’ fiancée Kirsty Tipping, who lives in Abbey Village, near Chorley, said: “To me, it does not matter how much it costs if it could save lives.
“It seems ridiculous, a joke, that they cannot switch them back on. Surely they can find a cheaper way.”
The Highways Agency, which manages the motorway from junction one to 10, turned the lights out between junctions seven and 10 in 2011 to reduce carbon emissions.
Junctions 10 to 14, where the lights are turned off between midnight and 5am, are maintained by Lancashire County Council.
Mr Stephenson, who represents Pendle, wrote to the government department for transport on behalf of a constituent who was concerned about how dark the road was.
In the reply he received from Robert Goodwill, minister responsible for the Highways Agency, Mr Stephenson was told that even though the lampposts were still in place, it was not possible to turn the lights on because the internal systems were broken.
In the letter, Mr Goodwill said: “Where lighting is switched off permanently, the lighting columns are removed as soon as possible, for example, where the agency has other works planned on its network.
“I realise that in the meantime, motorists may gain the impression that the lighting could be switched on again.
“This is not the case, as once the lighting has been permanently switched off, it cannot be switched on again.”
But Mr Goodwill has now promised an ‘in depth review’ of the situation, which was welcomed by Mr Stephenson.
He said: “I appreciate the minister taking time to set out in detail why the Highways Agency took the decision to turn off the lights on their section on the M65 in March 2011.
“The minister makes clear that this is about reducing carbon emissions and is only done on motorways where it will not compromise safety.
“However, I welcome his assurance that there will be a more in depth analysis of the safety record on the M65 since the lights were switched off.
“From what he says about the current lighting having reached the end of its serviceable life and needing to be replaced, it is clear that turning the lights back on would not be as easy as some think.
“However, if it is shown that the lack of lighting has led to an increase in accidents on the M65, I would still support the campaign to re-light this section of the motorway.”
To sign the Lancashire Telegraph petition to have the lights switched back on, visit www.lancashiretelegraph.co.uk