Councillors scrutinising Lincolnshire County Council’s decision to switch tens of thousands of street lights off at night have backed a list of recommendations designed to improve the system, while also stressing that darkness is good for the health and wellbeing of residents.
More than half of Lincolnshire’s 68,000 street lights were changed to what the county council called a ‘part-night’ lighting system, saving £1.7 million a year.
The system means the lights are turned off between midnight - and as early as 10pm in some areas - until dawn.
Over 5,000 Lincolnshire residents responded to a county council survey, with three quarters describing the changes as negative or extremely negative.
A scrutiny panel made up of county councillors from across Lincolnshire was tasked with reviewing the impact of the policy and making recommendations to the council’s Executive.
The five recommendations were:
• That Lincolnshire Police reviews and updates a street lighting crime data report on an annual basis for consideration by the county council’s Public Protection and Communities Scrutiny Committee.
• That Lincolnshire Road Safety Partnership ensures data regarding street lighting levels is captured and reported as part of any analysis of road safety and collisions. This data would then be considered on an annual basis by the Public Protection and Communities Scrutiny Committee.
• That the county council’s Executive considers agreeing on a list of exemption sites and including an additional exemption for community public access defibrillator sites where requested by local communities.
• That a communications and action plan is created to reassure the public and address fears about an increase in crime following the switch-off.
• That the county council considers developing an appropriate protocol to enable local communities to financially support street lighting to be upgraded to LED and reinstated to full night operation on request as part of routine maintenance.
Councillors on the authority’s Overview and Scrutiny Management Board reviewed the recommendations at a meeting in Lincoln on Thursday April 26, with the majority broadly supportive of the proposals.
Many councillors who spoke at the meeting were keen to point out the environmental and health benefits resulting from the changes.
Councillor Eddie Strengiel, Conservative member for Birchwood in Lincoln, said: “The reduction in energy consumption saves 6,200 tonnes of CO2 every year.
“Along with the reduction in carbon emissions, there’s also the reduction in overall light pollution.
“We have got to get used to the dark again. I go as far back as gas lamps!”
Councillor Jackie Brockway, Conservative member for Nettleham and Saxilby, said that lights on at night reduced the levels of melatonin, which controls people’s body clocks.
She said: “We need full darkness for our health.”
Stephen Rudman, one of the two church representatives on the board, echoed these sentiments, adding: “A report has come out from Exeter University this week.
“Living in areas with LED lamps which emit blue lights, men are twice as likely to develop prostate cancer and women one and half times more likely to get breast cancer.”
Councillor Hugo Marfleet, Conservative member for Louth Wolds, was enthusiastic about the proposals, but wanted more flexibility in the final recommendation, to allow for lights to be switched off earlier at night and turned on earlier in the morning for shift workers.
He said: “We seem to have gone down a crime route. Everything seems to be about crime.
“People have forgotten what it is like to live in the dark. We’re so used to having lights on all the time. Some people are now scared to sleep in the dark.
“My biggest issue is creating some flexibility.”
Board chairman Councillor Robert Parker, who represents the Carholme ward in Lincoln for Labour, reiterated his opposition to the initial policy, but conceded that the work done by the scrutiny committee in developing recommendations was of a high quality.
He said: “I do not think we should have turned off the street lights – I thought it should have come out of council tax. However, this is a good piece of scrutiny work.
“In terms of reassurance, I think we ought to be offering something back, especially as 75 per cent of people said they were extremely negative about the changes.
“We could offer some help with the police and PCSOs about creating something like how you can stay safe at night.”
The recommendations from the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board will now be passed over to the Executive for consideration.
Council leader Martin Hill has previously said that the council would not reverse the policy, but may tweak it in certain areas.
In October 2017 he said: “We promised a review of that policy but I’ll not mislead you.
“There’ll be no chance that all those street lights we’ve switched off will come back on again.
“Why would you want to keep street lights on when there’s nobody out there? And last time I looked, all cars had headlights on.”
Councillor Hill’s colleague Richard Davies, who is responsible for highways at Lincolnshire County Council, also accused some social media users of spreading “fake politics” about the changes.
In February 2018 he said: “One of the reasons people are at times feeling scared to go out in the evening is because there’s this false perception that we’re turning the street lights off at 8pm and anybody on their way home from the bingo is vulnerable to someone jumping out with a knife between their teeth. That simply isn’t the case.
“I think what we need to do is get past this fake politics that we sometimes get in local government of people whipping up fear and misunderstanding.”