New figures reveal the extent to which the UK’s streets have been plunged into darkness since councils began turning off and dimming streetlights to cut costs.
Ten per cent of streetlights in England are now being turned off at night, with more than a third of councils choosing to leave some of their roads dark, according to a survey by the Labour Party.
Since 2010, when the coalition government came to power, there has been an eightfold increase in the number of lights switched off at night, rising from 69,000 to 558,000. That's nearly 10 per cent of the 5.7 million streetlights in the areas surveyed. At the same time, the number being dimmed down has gone up by a factor of 10.
Councils switch streetlights off for one simple reason: to save money. But darkened roads have been blamed for accidents, deaths and crime - not to mention the discomfort and unease for residents walking or driving in the pitch black.
Labour's survey of 141 English councils found that 50 are switching off some lights and 98 are dimming some lights at night. Only 35 have left their lights on as before.
Streetlight switch-offs have hit areas outside the big cities particularly hard: Essex has switched off a whopping 83 per cent of its lights, Dorset has switched off 66 per cent and Hertfordshire 64 per cent.
The Automobile Association (AA) recently criticised streetlight switch-offs and warned at discontent triggering a ‘backlash’ at the next election.
'You have to wonder if many councils fully appreciate the difficulties and concern their streetlight blackouts create for their electorates,’ said the association’s president Edmund King.
Hilary Benn, Labour’s shadow communities and local government secretary, urged councils to invest in LEDs instead of switching lights off.
‘Significant areas of Britain have been plunged into darkness since May 2010 as a result of David Cameron and Eric Pickles’ policies,’ said Benn.
‘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.’
Light at the end of the tunnel?
In some areas, such work is already underway. In Hertfordshire, a £6.5 million ($10 million) upgrade is set to bring the lights back on, after switch-offs left commuters walking to and from the first and last trains of the day in complete darkness.
The county is now replacing 12,600 streetlights on its main roads with LED fittings from Urbis Schréder, and install a wireless control system from Telensa.
The Conservative-controlled council had previously been turning lights off between 11pm and 6am to cut electricity costs. Soon it will be able to dim them instead, saving an estimated £660,000 while keeping the roads lit.
Hertfordshire has a total of 114,000 streetlights – the fifth largest number managed by any authority in the UK – and Terry Douris, the councillor responsible for highways in the county, says it will look at introducing controls to the rest ‘as and when it’s economical’.