In the Media

In praise of … leaving the lights on

PUBLISHED December 26, 2011

Street-lighting is an important aspect of keeping citizens safe. The government should research the impact of turning it off before doing so

Left or right, both ends of the political spectrum agree that one vital role of government is to keep citizens as safe as possible. The police, the army, the highway code: all are part of that life-preserving infrastructure. So too, in its own prosaic way, is streetlighting. Yet from Essex to Kirklees, councils across the country are turning off their streetlights as part of the historic savings David Cameron has ordered local government to make. The move doubtless makes sense in a village where the bulk of nighttime traffic consists of barn owls; but in busy towns such as Stevenage and Welwyn in Hertfordshire it might mean more road accidents, more crime (all those shift-workers commuting after dark) and, crucially, more fear of crime especially among women and the elderly. A 2002 study by the Home Office found that "improved street lighting led to... an overall reduction in recorded crime of 20%". The implication is clear: turning out the lights might count as a saving for the local town hall could end up costing the local police, the health service and businesses. That is even more likely in an era when local authorities have little money for fixing potholes and keeping law and order. Labour's Stella Creasy is right: rather than allow local councils to experiment willy-nilly ? and exposing their residents to risk ? civil servants ought to research the circumstances in which public lights can be safely turned off. Otherwise, far from being what Eric Pickles describes as "sensible", this is just policy-making in the dark. © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds