UK Politics

Street lights 'switched off to save money' by councils

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Media captionLabour's Hilary Benn says councils should invest in low-energy lighting rather than switching off street lights

Street lights are being switched off or dimmed to save money in three-quarters of England's council areas, according to Labour Party research.

The party said much of Britain was being "plunged into darkness", claiming the number of lights switched off had "soared" in recent years.

It comes after councils warned of "huge financial challenges" after next year's government grants were announced.

Ministers say it was for councils to "make the right call" on spending.

In recent years, authorities across the UK have been switching off street lighting after midnight, to varying degrees. Councils say they need to save money to preserve core services like social care and road maintenance.

Safety concerns

The move is opposed by motoring groups, with the AA saying it has contributed to car crashes.

But the Campaign to Protect Rural England has previously called for more councils to dim lights to "reduce the impact of light pollution".

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has previously said switching off street lights can save a "phenomenal amount of money" and cut crime.

Labour said 141 of the 150 English councils responsible for street lighting had responded to its survey, with 50 switching off some lights at night.

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Media captionMatilda Wellbelove's brother, Archie, died in 2012 when he was hit by a taxi on a road where the street lighting had been turned off days earlier

A total of 106 councils were either switching off or dimming some lights, it said, claiming the numbers had increased sharply since 2010.

Asked what he would do to reverse the trend of lights being switched off, shadow local government secretary Hilary Benn said Labour would set councils' budgets further in advance to allow them to plan ahead and install low-energy lighting.

Mr Benn said the increase was down to the "great pressure" on council budgets and the high cost of electricity.

He 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."

A number of local authorities are switching to energy-efficient LED street lights as an alternative to switching them off.

'Careful choices'

Last week ministers said English councils would face an average cut of 1.8% in their overall spending power next year. Councils said the amount they receive from central government was being cut by 8.8%.

Joe Irvin, chief executive of charity Living Streets, which campaigns for pedestrians, said: "Our own survey found insufficient or broken street lighting or lighting turned off was an issue for over a quarter of people.

"It makes them feel unsafe and deters them from walking."

Local Government Minister Kris Hopkins said: "Local councils will know their communities far better than a minister in Whitehall.

"They need to make the right and careful choices - issues around street lighting and road lighting and making sure individuals as they're walking about are safe is important to consider.

"But actually it will be a local determination. It will be by people who understand their communities to make the right call."

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