Crime down after streetlight switch-off - but road safety fears persist

Burglary, car crime, violent crime and antisocial behaviour have all fallen by more than 20 per cent during times when streetlights have been switched off in Warwickshire.

But controversy persists over the impact of the cost-cutting measure on road safety, with accident figures up on the previous year.

A father whose teenage son was knocked down and killed by a taxi on an unlit road just a few days after the lights were turned off in 2012 has urged councillors to put them back on.

An inquest found that the lack of lighting was a factor in the death of 18-year-old Archie Wellbelove. According to BBC News, his father Grant said: ‘We realise it’s an economic situation, but we need to prioritise.’

Looking at figures for the particular areas and times of night where lighting was changed, compared to the same areas and times in 2011-12, Warwickshire County Council said there had been no ‘statistically significant’ change in the number of people injured and killed on roads.

Minor injuries were up from seven to 10 and the number of people killed or seriously injured was up from three to five. But while this was an increase on 2011-12, it was still below the numbers recorded in 2010-11.

Meanwhile burglaries and car crime were down by around a quarter, violent crime was down 21 per cent, and anti-social behaviour was down 30 per cent.

The findings will fuel the debate over whether streetlight switch-offs are safe, and whether lighting can claim to be a deterrent to crime. Communities minister Eric Pickles recently sang the praises of switch-offs, only for police in his Essex constituency to ask for lights to be turned back on in response to a spate of burglaries.

Last year, Milton Keynes Council switched lights back on after the rate of accidents rose on streets that had been left dark.

And a study by The Times earlier this year suggested a big rise in casualties on roads left dark.

Warwickshire County Council decided to start switching off around 80 per cent of its lights in 2012. As a result it has saved £560,000 on electricity and reduced its CO2 emissions by around 2,800 tonnes. The programme covers 39,000 streetlights which are now switched off between midnight and 5.30am during the week and between 1am and 6.30am at weekends.

Councillor Peter Butlin, who is responsible for transport and planning, said the accident that killed Archie Wellbelove was unusual and unfortunate, with lighting just one of a number of factors that contributed.

Early signs of the impact of the switch-off were ‘very encouraging’, he said.

‘I am pleased to see that the statistics for crime in the county bear out what we said; that turning off streetlights at night will not be a recipe for higher crime rates,’ he said.

The council is also investing £1 million in LED streetlights for areas where lights stay on all night.

‘These ultra-efficient lanterns will help to achieve greater savings and reduce CO2 emissions still further,’ said Butlin. ‘We should look at how they can play a greater part in how the county can reduce the energy it uses on streetlighting and this introduction is a good start.’

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