A Timely Reform by Ian Ridley

Blog & web site of Ian Ridley

In favour of switching off Street Lights

Copyright Roger Kidd under Creative Commons Licence
Copyright Roger Kidd under Creative Commons Licence

The Conservative-controlled Leicestershire County Council, “plans to save up to a £1 million annually by switching off street lights or limiting the hours they are illuminated,” according to the Leicester Mercury.

Like other areas, Leicestershire has rolled out a partial or full switch-off of selected street lights since 2010. Around 2-3% of lights have been changed so far. So the report must mean that the scheme is being extended.

I am in favour of a judicious reduction in street lighting. It saves tax-payers’ money, reduces carbon emissions and makes the nocturnal environment more natural for wildlife. It also allows people to see more of the night sky. For the latter reason, the Campaign for Dark Skies (part of the British Astronomical Association) supports more efficient street lighting.

The County Council list sensible criteria for exempting areas with above-average crime, road hazards and so on. Many lights on roads near to us have been switched off after midnight with no anecdotal increase in traffic accidents or crime. I can’t find any data from Leicestershire Police on changes in crime, although police in Dorset, Hertfordshire and South Gloucestershire all report no increase in crime or traffic accidents. This is a generalisation, as Police can and do request that the lights are switched back on if there are problems.

The Crime Prevention Web Site neatly summarises the positive and negative arguments for street lighting.

Leicestershire Liberal Democrats suggest LED street lights as an alternative to a partial switch-off. However the jury is out on the impact of these brighter, bluer lights on people, wildlife and the night sky.

Perhaps legislators should also look at ensuring lamp fittings on private and public buildings are correctly designed direct all light towards the ground. Only recently, the Leicester Mercury published photos that show how much light goes wastefully upwards into the night sky. Any new LED lighting should be on the warmer, yellower end of the spectrum to reduce glare and reflection.

Switching off street lights is not a conservative thing to do. Maintaining the status quo, keeping the lights on  and reassuring elderly residents would be a more natural policy for the Tories. They are driven by the need to save money, rather than pragmatism or  environmental concerns.

However, it is disappointing to see the Lib Dem Group on the County Council oppose this move, principally on the basis of fear of crime and indeed fear of change. I would counsel them to make policy based on evidence, rather than uninformed perception. They should support the policy, but with oversight to ensure reduced street lighting is not at the expense of road safety or actual crime. Properly directed, “warmer” coloured LEDs may also be part of the solution. LED lights can also be switched off when they are not needed, thereby saving energy and money in two ways.

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