Councils count cost of lights plan

DISTRICT councils in Essex are unlikely to be able to fund the cost of powering street lighting if the plug is pulled by county hall, it was claimed yesterday.

By Roddy Ashworth

DISTRICT councils in Essex are unlikely to be able to fund the cost of powering street lighting if the plug is pulled by county hall, it was claimed yesterday.

And Robert Davidson, leader of Colchester Borough Council, called for Rodney Bass, the county's cabinet member with responsibility for street lights, to consider very carefully the impact any switch-off could have.

Mr Bass recently announced plans to turn off street lights in the county between the hours of 12 midnight and 5am. This, he claimed, would reduce carbon emissions and tackle light pollution.

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But many people - including Neighbourhood Watch groups and security experts - have questioned the wisdom of such a move, arguing that crime could increase if streets were plunged into darkness.

Conservative Mr Bass said yesterday that a set of criteria would be worked out during a pilot trial in two rural districts, Uttlesford and Maldon, before the proposal was introduced county-wide.

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These criteria would then be applied to decide which lights in Essex should be turned off during the allocated time and which should stay on all night.

“I cannot pre-determine the consequences of the discussions that have yet to take place,” he said yesterday.

“One option must be that if the police or district council feels very strongly a light should be kept on, and we disagree, if they paid the energy cost we would keep it on.

“We need to have flexibility. That will be the spirit of our discussions.”

However fellow Tory Mr Davidson said yesterday that budgeting for street lighting was not an option for his council, and he doubted other districts in the county would be able to afford it either.

“We have no spare financial capability to take over lighting. Budgets are tight in all authorities. I would implore Mr Bass to think through his actions thoroughly.

“Colchester is a complete contrast to Uttlesford and Maldon. How many nightclubs are open till 3am in those areas? We have a thriving night-time economy.

“I would hope the county council would recognise that in some areas, where there are high levels of anti-social behaviour, the lights should be on.

“CCTV will also not work effectively in darkness unless it is infa-red.”

And Labour Group leader at the borough council Tim Young, whose ward includes the Greenstead estate, said yesterday he thought Mr Bass's proposals were “madcap.”

He added: “In terms of community safety this is an absolute nonsense. If it were an environmental

measure, there are other things you can do with street lights other than switch them off.

“This is nothing but a cost-cutting measure dressed up to look like an environmental policy and it is ludicrous.”

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