Street light switch-off plan ‘not safe and not sensible’

An increase in the number of hours that Essex street lights are switched off is “unsafe” and “not a sensible way” to save money, councillors have said.

Around 70 per cent of Essex County Council street lights have been switched off between 1am and 5am since 2014 to save money and reduce carbon emissions.

But the authority is now proposing keep them off for longer by only switching them on between midnight and 6am. A full consultation will be carried out which will include representations from Essex Police.

Reducing the hours of operation of street lights and further rolling out its LED conversion programme could save the authority £1.3m a year. But there have been concerns that reducing the hours further is not safe.

Councillor Chris Pond, leader of the non-aligned group at Essex County Council, said at cabinet on January 17: “I don’t believe it is at all sensible, other than in the short reckoning of savings, of cutting off street lighting particularly in the early morning between 5am and 6am.

“I have, and lots of members have, constituents who have to work in the financial industry in London from very early on.

“They will catch, in the case of Loughton, the first train at 5.20am. It is not safe and it is not sensible and does not encourage walking to and from the station, that we all want to see, if lights are not switched on until 6am.

He added: “I shall resist that as best of my ability on behalf of my constituents. I know the county has to save money but that is not the way to do it.”

Cabinet member for highways Councillor Lee Scott was asked by Councillor Ivan Henderson (Lab, Harwich) if “there been an impact assessment” on the safety of those people who work within the night time economy and “who do not have a choice of working in the hours of darkness”.

Councillor Scott added: “There is a consultation with Essex Police on safety and that will be reported back to everyone. Of course it is being consulted on as quite rightly it should.”

Those areas which are lit through the night include roundabouts and busy junctions, busy night-time economic areas and sites where the police can demonstrate that there is likely to be an increase in crime if the lights are switched off.

Essex County Council has local agreements with Basildon, and Chigwell Parish councils to maintain all night lights in these areas.

The authority is battling to balance its books amidst rising costs and inflation. The price of electricity has increased by between eight and ten times. Inflation alone will add £68m to the authority’s spend for 2023/24 and £133m by the time the council is budgeting for 2026/27.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter