HOW many people does it take to change a Belisha beacon - and how long does it take them to do it?

Those questions were being asked today by a York shopkeeper after watching workmen's "Ealing Comedy" efforts to replace zebra crossing poles outside his store in Fishergate, York.

Steve Heyman said that six week's work by three different groups of contractors had so far resulted in two poles standing next to each other on both sides of the road, with only one of the four orange flashing globes actually lighting up.

Steve, proprietor of Alligator wholefoods store, said that City of York Council decided to replace a small black and white pole with a larger one that lit up inside, to make it more visible at night.

"First, about six weeks ago, they sent someone to come along and dig a hole for the new pole and put it in, but they didn't have anyone to connect it up to the electricity," he said.

"Then they sent someone along to dig another hole and connect up the pole, but they just went away, leaving a coil of cable in the bottom of the hole.

"Later, someone else came along and connected up the new pole, but it still isn't working, and the new one on the other side of the street still hasn't been connected. So, there is only one working so far - one of the old poles. Meanwhile, they've left a pile of rubble and fencing that obstructs the pavement."

He said that, under the council's plans for improvements to the A19 corridor, which includes Fishergate, the zebra crossing was set to be replaced by a Pelican crossing anyway, which would mean removing the poles and installing traffic lights.

"No wonder our council tax keeps going up," he said. "I pay over £2,000 a year in business rates for my shop, plus over £1,200 a year in council tax for my house.

"It's been like an Ealing Comedy, with various people digging holes and then filling them in again. If I ran my business like this, I would have been bankrupt years ago.

"If they could have appointed one contractor capable of doing the whole job, it could have been finished in a morning."

* Belisha beacons are named after Leslie Hore-Belisha, a Minister of Transport, who introduced them in 1934.

Council says £5,000 crossing scheme will improve safety

CITY of York Council today defended the zebra crossing scheme, which it said was costing about £5,000.

A spokeswoman said the project was a Fishergate ward committee "Local Improvement Scheme" to replace existing poles with illuminated ones to improve the visibility of the crossing at night. Unfortunately, there has been a delay in getting the electricity supply to the new poles, which meant that two sets of poles have been in place for a short time," she said.

"We understand that the electricity supply will be connected this week."

She said there were no definite plans to convert the zebra crossing to a Pelican.

"It was put forward as an idea within the consultation on the Fulford Corridor Scheme, and whilst many liked the idea, questions were raised about what real advantages would be gained from having a Pelican compared to the existing zebra facility.

"A zebra gives more immediate priority to the pedestrian and can be easier for a school crossing patrol to work with, as happens at this site now.

"Therefore, it was agreed to monitor the operation of the zebra in more detail before making a decision about the long- term future of the crossing."