Switching off street lights in Cambridgeshire from midnight to 6am was part of 2015-16 budget to make £230,000 energy savings - and councillors were warned of risk

New street lights in Sutton,

New street lights in Sutton, - Credit: Archant

Details of the county council plans to turn off street lights from midnight to 6am revealed to local councils this week- were approved back in February as part of the county’s 2015-16 budget.

Lists of lights that are under consideration to be turned off were sent to district councils in the past few days.

.”Obviously there will be others that will be dimmed but we already do that with them and have been dimming lights for the last four years,” said a county council spokesman.

The county council says it is having to identify over £100m of financial savings over the next four years on top of the £100m already saved over the past three years.

“This requires many difficult decisions to be made across all our services,” said the spokesman.

“The current proposal will reduce annual street lighting costs of approximately £1.1m by £272,000 across the whole county. This is on top of the savings being made by the PFI contract to replace and upgrade lighting in Cambridgeshire. This will save around £1.1million a year as well as 46 per cent in energy usage and a huge 4.5k tonnes of carbon emissions per year.”

The county council says the proposal to dim or switch off lights has already been implemented throughout our neighbouring Authorities in Essex, Hertfordshire, Suffolk and Norfolk. There has been no evidence of any increases in either crime or traffic related accidents in these areas.

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“We are in the process of consulting with councils across the county on draft proposals,” said the spokesman.

“We expect these to change and are taking into consideration concerns over safety, the night economy and traffic routes. Where we can, we will look to find local solutions.

“For example one option is to provide local councils with the ability to contribute to the energy costs in roads where they would like to keep streetlights on for longer periods. This would ensure that together we can provide a flexible street lighting service that directs resources to meet the needs of different communities.

“The contribution we would request would start from £12 per street light per full year starting in 2016/17.”

The seeds for this year’s cuts were sown a year ago when the council warned that frontline services could be cut and jobs lost in a five year bid to save £149million.

What was termed ‘community impact assessments’ conducted earlier this year outlined the scale of cuts and what they would mean.

For instance the council’s business plan “has identified the need to deliver an additional £230,000 of energy savings in 2015/16” said a report agreed by councillors.

They were told this could only be delivered by switching off all street lights in residential areas between midnight and 6am. Street lights would also be dimmed to a maximum level of up to 70 per cent between switch-on and switch off.

“Whilst the provision of street lighting is not a statutory requirement, where street lighting has been provided, many of our communities view any changes to existing service as being negative,” said the report.

Evidence of this was the backlash when 10 per cent of the existing street lights were removed as part of the PFI modernisation contract. “This has been received most negatively by communities where age, disability, rural isolation or deprivation is prevalent and it is likely that these protected characteristics will perceive an even great negative impact to the service changes proposed.”

In rural areas of Cambridgeshire the changes had the potential “to impact on a large number of people, leaving them feeling more isolated including the more vulnerable who rely on street lighting to make them feel safe at night-time.”

But the council officers who compiled the report said there was “no evidence to suppose these fears from other authorities who have had to implement similar savings.”

The report also warned the impact could be greater on women than men “although there is no direct evidence of this”.

Certain exemptions will apply such as at roundabouts, accident black spots, town centres, main approaches to towns, remote foot paths and alleys sites where police suggest street lighting is necessary, and roads where there is a statutory requirement to provide lighting.

The county council also plans to reduce the number of times it cuts highway verges from three times a year to two. And the number of roads to be gritted in winter will also be cut.

County council official Tom Blackburne-Maze said: “We’re currently proposing to switch street lights off in residential areas that are covered by our central management system between the hours of midnight and six am.

“And we’re currently consulting on those proposals with local councils, to understand their comments and any concerns that they might have around that proposal.”

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