Street lighting has become a political issue as Labour accuses the majority of Tory county councils of leaving their residents in the dark to cut costs.
A survey of local authority street lighting policies, commissioned by Labour, has revealed that most Conservative-controlled county councils and unitary authorities are switching lights off for hours every night.
Studies suggest that reductions in street lighting lead to more road accidents, higher crime and a reduced sense of safety, yet many councils trying to balance their books are cutting back on street lights.
Overall, 41 of the 82 councils surveyed (50%) are turning off lights altogether or for part of the night. Of the 49 Tory authorities in the survey, 30 have turned off some lights altogether orfor part of the night. The survey also finds that four Labour-controlled authorities out of 17 have followed suit.
Northamptonshire county council has switched off 30,137 of 66,000 lights completely, acccording to Labour. Hertfordshire has turned off 80% of its 13,300 street lights between midnight and 6am. Milton Keynes council reversed a decision to turn off street lights following a 30% rise in accidents.
The survey poses awkward questions for the communities secretary, Eric Pickles. Transport minister Norman Baker said last year that "good street lighting is vitally important in cutting road accidents".
The AA has reported that on non-built up roads, 3.1% of accidents are fatal where there was street lighting, compared with 4.9% in areas without.
"Street lights play an important part in ensuring that people are safe and feel safe,but this survey shows that parts of Britain are being plunged into darkness," said Hilary Benn, the shadow local government secretary.
A review of streetlighting in 2008 by David Farrington, a criminologist at Cambridge University, concluded that "improved street lighting should continue to be used to prevent crime in public areas."
Labour has called for councils to introduce energy-saving technology that allows lights to be dimmed – but not switched off – in the early hours.
The Tories pointed out that in 2007 Benn had launched the Carbon Trust standard, which worked with councils that cut street lighting on selected roads during the night in a bid to reduce their carbon emissions.
"Common-sense dimming of unnecessary street lighting in the early hours can save taxpayers' money and reduces carbon emissions," said the local government minister, Grant Shapps.
The Guardian website, 19 August 2012