MALVERN Civic Society has put forward a high-tech proposal which could solve the looming crisis over the town's historic gas lamps.

The Gazette reported last week that Malvern Hills District Council wants to drop its £18,000 contribution towards the cost of maintaining the lamps - half the total.

This would throw the entire bill onto Malvern Town Council and the Wells and West parish councils, who say they cannot afford to pay.

But Ted Larner of the civic society, who has spent two years compiling a survey of the lamps, says a technical solution is on the horizon.

Each lamp costs £315 a year to maintain, with much of the cost being the weekly visits by a technician to wind the clockwork mechanism that turns them on and off.

Mr Larner has discovered Sugg Lighting of West Sussex, which made the original lamps in the 19th century, is working on a solar-powered device to do the job.

"It's only a prototype at the moment, but they've already got a battery-powered version, and that only needs the battery changing once a year. With the solar-powered version, that might mean a visit every five years.

"Imagine the saving you can make by cutting visits from every week to once in five years, or even once a year.

Mr Larner will be working closely with the town and parish councils, and is meeting representatives next week to discuss the future of the lamps.

"We've got some time, because the district council's proposed cut doesn't come into effect until 2011. This offers a real possibility of a solution."

There are 99 working gas lamps around Malvern, and a further 148 gas lamp posts, some converted to electricity, the others not working.

*At Tuesday's meeting of MHDC's executive committee, Wells parish chairman Malcolm Victory said it is "unethical and unfair" for the parishes to shoulder the entire burden.

Coun Ralph Madden, responsible for finance, told coun Victory: "You have a firm commitment from me that we will fully discuss this matter with all the parishes concerned."