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The dark side of the public spending cuts

energy-newsUnder the Freedom of Information Act it has been revealed, following a request from the Opposition Labour party, that 141 of the 150 councils responsible for Britain’s street lights have either dimmed them or completely switched them off as budget constraints hit.

The report found:

  • 106 of the 141 councils are either switching off or dimming their lights in a cost saving exercise
  • Of the 5.7m operable streetlights, 558,000 are completely shut off at night, an increased of 8 times since 2010
  • In addition 797,000 are being dimmed, a ten fold increase on 2010
  • In Surrey 99% of lights are dimmed at night
  • In Essex 83% are completely switched off
  • In Northamptonshire 29% are switched off with a further 54% dimmed.

Hilary Benn MP, Labour’s Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, who commissioned the investigation said:

“Street lights ensure that people are safe on our roads and feel safe walking home, especially at this time of the year when the nights have drawn in.

“Our research shows however that significant areas of Britain have been plunged into darkness since May 2010 as a result of David Cameron and Eric Pickles’ policies. Eric Pickles has even boasted that he ‘loves’ switching off streetlights, which will do nothing to reassure people walking home in the dark.

“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”

Eric Pickles bizarre love of switching off streetlights makes interesting reading:

  • “it allows people to see the stars”
  • “it helps me sleep”
  • “it saves a phenomenal amount of money”
  • it has decreased crime as criminals “love ambient lighting”

In addition, referring specifically to Essex County Council’s decision to switch off 83% of their lights he described their ‘lead’ as “immensely brave”.

Pickles said:

“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.

“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”

The seduction for Pickles is that councils can save hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in electricity bills by taking a more prudent use of lights. In doing so Pickles receives less pressure for the budgetary complaints of Britain’s councils. But there is a corollary – road traffic accidents have increased by 20% in areas where street lights are switched off with a 58% increase in the incidence of fatal accidents.

Paul Watters, Head of Road Policy for the AA, said:

“We know for a fact that night-time accidents in the dark are more likely when the lights are off and there is no lighting, dark is always a problem and so switching lights off is bound to have some negative impact on Road Safety.

“We need to get a handle on what’s going on because lots of authorities are doing it and clearly there appear to be some [drawbacks] probably outweighing the savings that are being made on energy, certainly when it comes to human life.”

The need for the great switch off isn’t, like Pickles would have us believe an ideological one, rather it is an essential economic one with local authorities having borne the brunt of cuts in public spending needed to reduce the amount of government borrowing under Labour’s era of largesse.

Funding for local authorities has fallen by 28% since 2010 and with 2015 expected to see that ‘increase’ to 37% according to the National Audit Office and with energy costs a major factor in their budgets the councils of Britain are in dire need of better leadership then they’re currently getting from Pickles.

Be careful out there.