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Poll: Call for referendum over street light switch-off rejected

A street light.

A street light.

©Archant Photographic 2009

Calls for a referendum over whether street lights should be kept on in Essex have been rejected.

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Part-night lighting, which sees county council-owned street lights switched off between midnight and 5am, was trialed in Maldon and Uttlesford districts in 2009 and rolled out across the rest of the country over the last 18 months.

Lights are kept on at dangerous road junctions, in town centres and areas with CCTV, and in areas of particularly high crime. They can also be switched on following a police request, for example when tidal flooding and winter storms swept the county.

Labour group leader at County Hall Julie Young, said: “I live a few yards from where Nahid Almanea was murdered, and although this happened at 10.30am so was not affected by street lights, fear of crime is high in the community.

“We have had the lights back on after a request from the police, but my 17-year-old son came home and said he was worried as they had gone off again.

“People in Colchester are worried about it.”

The Liberal Democrat group proposed a motion which would allow referenda in individual districts and boroughs over whether to keep the policy.

It called for Essex County Council to fund the cost of the poll, if backed by a borough, district or city council, and the on-going electricity costs if voters backed keeping the lights on.

However they were voted down by the majority Conservative administration at a full meeting of the authority today.

A second motion by the Labour group calling for lights to be switched back on until full consultation was carried out with Essex residents, also failed to gather enough support.

The two motions fell with 22 votes for to 35 votes against, while three councillors abstained.

Liberal Democrat councillor David Kendall said: “If this council believes in localism then it will allow a referendum.

“I understand the cost of a referendum would be about £50,000, if it was held at the general election.”

Nigel Le Gresley, from UKIP, added: “All but one or two people i have spoken to are not happy with it, and they certainly feel they go off too early especially at weekends.

“I think we should ask the people of Essex what they think.”

Rodney Bass, county councillor for highways who implemented the policy, said: “We did consult extensively with the emergency services and local councils.

“I have said it before and I say it again there is no evidence that crime has risen as a result.

“I think the Liberal Democrats are flogging a dead horse when they call for a referendum.”

Mr Bass also added a county council could not call a legally-binding referendum, but could only commission an advisory one, but did say officers were keeping up to date with alternative technology such as LED lights.

Some councillors said the lights being off was welcomed by their constituents.

Graham Butland, Conservative councillor for Braintree Town, said: “Youngsters are attracted like moths to a light. Please don’t put the lights back on because anti-social behaviour has fallen.”

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