Why it is time to light up Peterborough city centre

We are all like moths - attracted to the light, particularly at this time of year when many of us have already enjoyed fireworks and are looking forward to those bright, twinkly lights on the Christmas tree, writes Toby Wood from Peterborough Civic Society.

Saturday, 23rd November 2019, 4:50 am
Bedford’s illuminated ‘butterfly’ bridge

Diwali, the festival of lights, is celebrated all over the world and Trafalgar Square has just hosted the largest light festival with many amazing installations.

But light isn’t just for specific celebrations, or times of year. We are all affected and made to feel uncertain by the lack of light. And there is plenty that can be done in our ordinary lives to make us feel comforted and reassured.

The council has been upgrading 17,000 street lights to contain LED energy efficient lights which are designed to direct light downwards onto the road, reducing light pollution into properties. The lights on the city’s many parkways have been upgraded to become more efficient and cost-effective.

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Appropriate lighting makes us all feel more safe and secure. How often have we felt nervous if the lights in an underpass have been defective or broken? At one time or another most of us have been full of trepidation if a footpath has been badly lit, just in case we trip or stumble.

But good lighting isn’t all about basic citizen safety – it can also be all about enhancing and enriching our lives. Peterborough Cathedral is a good example of this. What better sight is there than the illuminated west front on a cold November evening?

There are other examples of good practice in the city centre, particularly around St John’s church and Cathedral Square. Bridge Street is bathed in blue light at night, particularly striking when the pavements are wet and reflect the light.

As the city develops even further there is a great opportunity to promote itself. Think for a moment about the two main gateways to the city centre – Town Bridge and Crescent Bridge. Just think how impressive these might look if they were properly and imaginatively illuminated.

Newcastle’s Tyne bridge is lit and very impressive it looks too. Just think how good Town Bridge could look from the new pedestrian bridge across to Fletton Quays when that gets built too (see the photograph of Bedford’s illuminated ‘butterfly’ bridge).

In London there is a project called The Illuminated River which is a long-term art commission to light London’s bridges along the River Thames. It is designed to ‘transform the capital with a unified light installation … that will connect, celebrate and capture the spirit of the Thames and its diverse communities’.

Now I’m not saying that Peterborough should try to replicate this, but the very existence of the London project suggests that there are designers and artists around who can provide ideas and potential designs.

On a smaller scale, Bedford Borough Council was, in 2015, awarded Department of Transport funding to install the latest LED lanterns on its Town Bridge. I am led to believe that this initiative not only made the bridge more attractive, but also was more energy efficient, thus saving money.

Now, it would be foolish to assume that any new initiatives might happen overnight. But now is the time to persuade developers (who are after all so keen to come to the city) to incorporate innovative lighting schemes into their projects.

And while we’re at it, innovative lighting and illumination schemes should be insisted upon at new developments such as Fletton Quays, North Westgate, Northminster or any other planned growth. But first, come on Peterborough, let’s look at Crescent Bridge and Town Bridge. Let there be light!