MORE than 40,000 street lights are set to be switched off at night in Yorkshire plunging parts of the county into darkness as cash-strapped councils look to save money.
Fears were raised last night that the decision to immerse some rural and residential streets in an overnight blackout could increase the fear of crime and road accidents as well as posing a risk to public safety, and calls have been made for the Government to look at the impact.
A Yorkshire Post investigation has revealed four local authorities: Kirklees, North Yorkshire, Leeds and Rotherham have either backed plans to turn off lights part time or are considering such a move to cut energy bills.
According to information supplied under the Freedom of Information Act, York, Calderdale and Harrogate councils may look at the merits of such a move in the future.
Hull and Doncaster councils do not turn lights off but both said they both use dimming technology to lower their energy bills.
Last night Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, warned the cutbacks were bound to have an impact.
“It’s almost certainly going to have consequences if street lighting is turned off during the course of the evening and that is not scaremongering it’s just the reality of a change in the environment.
“We understand fully the financial cuts that councils are suffering across the country and realise that they have to look at options like turning the street lighting off but it makes for a less safe environment for people.”
Diana Johnson, Labour’s shadow home office minister and MP for Hull North, has called for the Government to look at the impact of the switch-off.
“Government austerity measures, which go too far, too fast, are leaving many local authorities with little choice but to find new ways to cut their budgets, including cutting street lighting.”
She said research has shown that women feel particularly vulnerable at night and rely on well-lit streets.
“However, despite the unprecedented scale of the street light switch-off, the changes are going largely unmonitored by the Government, who have made no attempt to audit the impact of their austerity measures on women’s or community safety.
“We’re urging the Government to conduct an urgent audit into the reduction in street lighting,” she added.
Councils, who are faced with major cuts to their budgets, say they are considering the move to save money while protecting front-line services and have said the blackouts, usually planned for between midnight and 5am, are being imposed to cut energy bills and meet carbon reduction targets.
But last night The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) warned street lighting not only reduced the risk of road accidents, but also their severity.
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “Street lighting plays an important role in road safety, as well as ensuring the personal safety of pedestrians, but there may be some roads where lights could be dimmed in the very early hours, saving taxpayers’ money and reducing carbon emissions.
“However this should be a local decision by elected local councillors, reflecting local circumstances and the views of local residents – especially in relation to any concerns about crime.”
A spokesman for the Local Government Association said: “Many local authorities have been trying out the turning off and dimming of lights after midnight in quieter areas to see what impact it has had. In some areas this has been successful in reducing unnecessary lights and saving money without having any detrimental effect on the local area.
“Councils always take a pragmatic approach which balances concerns about public and road safety, crime levels, light pollution, the environment and cost. Top of those has to be public safety.”