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More councils switching off street lights to save money

Three-quarters of councils are dimming their street lights or switching them off completely to save money, according to Labour party research.

FOI requests were submitted to 150 English councils and 50 out of the 141 that responded said they were switching off some streetlights, while 56 were dimming some, 42 councils were taking both measures and 35 councils were doing neither.

The number of lamps being turned off or set to shine less brightly has risen to 1.36 million, or 24%, compared with just 148,000, or 2.6%, in May 2010 when the Coalition came to power. Councils were free to make their own decisions on street lighting timings under the Labour government too, however, when the practice began.

Surrey, Essex and Northamptonshire are the areas where the practice is most extensive, as well as rural areas of Dorset, Hertfordshire and Devon also badly hit. In Surrey 99% of street lights are dimmed at night, although no lights are turned off completely.

In Essex, 83% of lights are turned off, while in Northamptonshire 29% are switched off and 54% are dimmed.

The increase has been linked with councils’ attempts to save money as their budgets come under increased pressure. PSE reported last week that the latest local government finance settlement will see a 1.8% cut in council spending power.

Shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn MP said wide areas of the country were being “plunged into darkness” and suggested that the safety of people walking in the dark could be put at risk by the money saving measures.

Earlier this year, Eric Pickles criticised Tory councillors in Basildon, Essex who wanted the party’s members on Essex county council to put streetlights back on.

“In a time when we are on the cusp with regards to our electricity supply, we can’t have lights burning all night on the off-chance someone wants to get out and do aerobics at 3am,” the communities secretary said.

“I love it because I am economy-minded. It’s saving a phenomenal amount of money, it’s decreased crime because burglars love ambient lighting, it’s nice to see the night sky and, as someone who lives in a main street that has had its lights cut off, I can get a good night’s sleep.”

Police in his Essex constituency of Brentwood asked lights to be switched back on because of a sharp increase in burglaries.

The switching off or dimming of lights is also opposed by motoring groups, with the AA saying it has contributed to at least six deaths since 2009.

However the Campaign to Protect Rural England has called for more lights to be dimmed to reduce the impact of light pollution.

Local government minister Kris Hopkins said: "Local councils will know their communities far better than a minister in Whitehall.

"They need to make the right and careful choices – issues around street lighting and road lighting and making sure individuals as they're walking about are safe is important to consider.

"But actually it will be a local determination. It will be by people who understand their communities to make the right call."

(Image: c. John Goldsmith)

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