Huge swathes of Britain are being plunged into darkness as more and more streetlights are switched off by councils and roads authorities.
9:00PM BST 27 Oct 2012
Lights are being turned off on motorways and major roads, in town centres and residential streets, and on footpaths and cycle ways, as councils try to save money on energy bills and meet carbon emission targets. The switch-off begins as early as 9pm.
They are making the move despite concerns from safety campaigners and the police that it would lead to an increase in road accidents and crime.
The full extent of the blackout can be disclosed following an investigation by The Sunday Telegraph – which comes on the day that clocks moved back an hour, making it dark earlier in the evening – and found that:
- 3,080 miles of motorways and trunk roads in England are now completely unlit;
- a further 47 miles of motorway now have no lights between midnight and 5am, including one of Britain’s busiest stretches of the M1, between Luton and Milton Keynes;
- out of 134 councils which responded to a survey, 73% said they had switched off or dimmed some lights or were planning to;
- all of England’s 27 county councils have turned off or dimmed street lamps in their areas.
The vast majority of councils have chosen to turn lights off at night, at times when they say there is less need for them, while others have installed lamps which can be dimmed.
Local authorities say the moves helps reduce energy bills, at a time when energy prices are continuing to rise. Several of the big energy companies have unveiled price hikes in recent weeks, including British Gas, npower and EDF Energy – which this week said it was increasing its standard variable prices for gas and electricity customers by 10%.
Some councils expect to save hundreds of thousands of pounds by turning off lights at night or converting them to dimmer switches.
However some councils admit they may not see savings for another four or five years because of the cost of installing new lights, dimmer switches and complex control systems.
And some councils – as well as the Highways Agency, responsible for motorways and major A roads – say that the lights are being turned off to meet “green” targets to cut carbon emissions, by reducing electricity use.
Critics say that spending money to meet the targets is a poor use of public funds in a time of recession.
The increasing black-out was criticised last night by safety and motoring organisations, who said the economic and environmental benefits were being over-stated and warned that less street lighting would lead to more accidents and more crime.
A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents said: “The presence of lighting not only reduces the risk of traffic accidents but also their severity. Surveys have show that the public are in favour of street lighting as a way of improving road safety and that, if anything, it needs to be improved in some areas.
“There are economic and environmental reasons why some organisations may wish to reduce the amount of lighting. However there are safety reasons why lighting needs to be available.”
Paul McClenaghan, commercial director at Halfords, said: “Poor lighting or none at all can make it very difficult for motorists to see hazards or objects clearly at night. Added to this Government figures show that road accidents increase in the week after the clocks change, so it is clear that extra vigilance is needed at this time of the year, from motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.”
Paul Watters, head of roads policy at the AA, said: “We do know that most accidents happen in the dark, its also comforting for people, especially if they arrive back from somewhere in the night, when they have got a late train. There are also suggestions that it increases crime. So it may save money in terms of energy but then you have to look at the cost in terms of security, safety and accidents, it may actually be more. We have even heard that some milkmen are having more trips and falls, so it has had some implications you might not think about.
“Motorway drivers don’t like changing situations, from light to dark and dark to light, but I don’t think we would argue for no lighting at all. It is extremely comforting for drivers, especially in bad weather.”
The switch-off of motorway lights means that 70 per cent of the network is now unlit at night. Sections of the M1, M2, M27, M4, M48, M5, M54, M58, M6, M65 and M66 are now unlit from midnight.
One of the sections of the M1 is a 15-mile stretch from just north of Luton to the outskirts of Milton Keyns, one of the heaviest-used sections of any british road.
The Highways Agency said the full-switch off had saved it £400,000 last year, while reducing carbon emissions, and said it planned further blackouts.
Meanwhile 98 councils said they have switched off or dimmed lights, or planned to in the future.
In Shropshire, 12,500 – 70 per cent of the area’s lights – are now switched off between midnight and 5.30am, while Derbyshire County Council plans to turn off 40,000 lights at night. In Lincolnshire, some are turned off from as early as 9pm.
Leicestershire County Council expects to save £800,000 a year in energy bills by adapting one third of the country’s 68,000 street lights so that they can be dimmed or turned off at night.
Caerphilly in Wales no longer lights industrial estates overnight and Bradford dims 1,800 of its 58,000 street lights between 9.30pm and 5.30am.
However Worcestershire County Council postponed plans to switch off and dim lights after it found it would cost more money to implement the scheme than it would save. The authority currently pays £2 million a year to run 52,000 street lights but it found that to reduce that bill by £600,000 a year it would need to invest £3.4 million first. It is now running a trial to dim some lights before a final decision is made.
In many areas councils have received complaints from residents.
Caroline Cooney, an actress who complained to Hertfordshire County Council when the lights near her home in Bishop’s Stortford were switched off after midnight, said she faced a “black hole” when she returned home from working in the West End of London.
“My street is completely canopied by large tress and I could not see my hand in front of my face,” she said.
Mrs Cooney, who appeared in Gregory’s Girl and who has also appeared in Casualty, said it was putting people in danger and the council was effectively imposing a “midnight curfew on residents who do not want to take the risk of walking home blind”.
“When I came out of the train station it was just like a black hole,” she said.
“I simply cannot risk walking home in what is effectively pitch blackness.”
However the council told her it could not “provide tailored street lighting for each individual’s particular needs”.
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