Switch-off leaving shires in dark

Published: Monday 22nd December 2014 by The News Editor

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Three-quarters of English councils are switching off or dimming some street lights at night, a survey has revealed, leading to claims that significant areas have been “plunged into darkness” since the Government took office.

Labour claimed the squeeze on budgets coupled with high electricity prices were leading councils to turn off or dim almost a quarter of all lights, compared with under 3% in May 2010.

A total of 1.36 million lights are either off or dimmed at night, compared with 148,000 in May 2010, out of a total of 5.7 million in the areas surveyed.

Labour obtained information from 141 of 150 councils responsible for street lights, with just 35 saying they were neither switching off nor dimming lights.

The figures showed 106 are either dimming or switching off lights, with 42 doing both.

Shadow communities and local government secretary Hilary Benn said: “Street lights ensure that people are safe on our roads and feel safe walking home, especially at this time of the year when the nights have drawn in.

“Our research shows however that significant areas of Britain have been plunged into darkness since May 2010 as a result of David Cameron and Eric Pickles’ policies.”

Mr Benn said Communities Secretary Mr Pickles ” has even boasted that he ‘loves’ switching off street lights, which will do nothing to reassure people walking home in the dark”.

The Opposition’s analysis showed that across all councils, 29% of street lights are being shut off or dimmed at night in Conservative areas compared with 13% in Labour areas.

Limiting the figures to just county council areas, 53% of lights are being shut off or dimmed at night in Conservative areas compared with 8% in Labour areas.

Mr Benn said: ” David Cameron and Eric Pickles need to tell their shire councils to get their act together and do what forward-thinking authorities are already doing by investing in new technologies like LED lights to save money on electricity bills and keep residents safe.”

The figures showed 558,000 lights are being switched off at night, compared to 69,000 in May 2010.

Some 797,000 are now being dimmed at night, compared to 79,000 when the Government took office.

In total nine times as many lights are being switched off or dimmed at night compared to May 2010.

Earlier this month the AA highlighted the dangers facing drivers travelling on unlit roads.

The motoring organisation said government figures showed that over the past five years, improved road safety has seen accidents in hours of darkness on built-up roads where there is street lighting fall 18.6% overall, and 24% in the wet, snow and ice.

But where street lights were off or not present, the reduction was 12% overall and 16.7% in bad weather.

The AA added that the situation was worse on faster roads. Since 2008, night-time accidents on street-lit 40mph sections have dropped 24.1% overall and 30.4% in wet, snow or icy conditions, but are down only 10.4% on both counts where street lights were off or not present.

The AA said the five worst councils for street lighting in this year’s National Highways and Transport Network public satisfaction survey all operated a blackout during the early hours of the morning.

It said Essex County Council was bottom of a league of 78 councils with a score of 45.1%. Hertfordshire was second with 51.7%, followed by South Gloucestershire with 56.5%, Buckinghamshire with 58%, and Suffolk with 58.7%.

Joe Irvin, chief executive of charity Living Streets, which campaigns for pedestrians, said: “‘We know from our supporters that this is an issue.

“Our own survey found insufficient or broken street lighting or lighting turned off was an issue for over a quarter of people; it makes them feel unsafe and deters them from walking.

“Living Streets is aware of the budgetary pressures facing local councils, but initiatives such as investing in LED lighting can be effective in keeping streets safe, reducing carbon emissions and reducing the maintenance burden.

“The key thing is to consult with local communities to ensure people can walk safely on their streets and, just as importantly, feel safe doing so.”

Published: Monday 22nd December 2014 by The News Editor

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