Early civilisations knew the importance of public lighting. Lamps were then used to illuminate the path of wanderers in the dark- be it pedestrians or prowling criminals, thus acting as a form of security. Studies have shown that darkness results in a large number of crashes and fatalities, especially those involving pedestrians; pedestrian fatalities are 3 to 6.75 times more likely in the dark than in daylight. Yet, today, street lighting seems to be affecting the environment. Street Lighting energy costs were approximately £4m in 2010/2011 and are expected to rise. As measures are taken to protect the Earth, concerns are raised about its impact on the security of the Earthlings. In a bid to cut costs as well as energy consumption, the Essex County Council has carried out a Part-night lighting programme of switching off the lights between midnight to 5a.m.

• The programme aims at saving circa £1m per year, while reducing light pollution, ‘sky glow’ and carbon emissions by over 8,000 tonnes per year.

• The emergency services have been consulted about the plans to install part night lighting, while an Equality Impact Assessment has also been conducted.

• The cost of the installation of a central management system for Essex County Council owned street lights in Essex was £6.5m.

• It has taken 2 years to install across the County.

• Essex County Council is not duty bound to provide street lighting and can legally do so.

• Residents were not directly consulted by Essex County Council before its implementation.

• Any increase in car/home insurance as it is beyond the control of the Council.

• Individual/public requests to switch on the lights will not be considered.

• People who are partially sighted, elderly, start work early or finish late, or those who get injured during the hours the lights are off do not have any special consideration as the introduction of part night lighting is not based on personal circumstances.

• Essex County Council does not have a statutory obligation to provide street lighting, with the aim of making the streets and homes safe.

The impact of part night lighting on crime and its consequences for residents

Crime statistics recorded during the trial of part night lighting in the two districts of Maldon and Uttlesford in 2007 for its first roll out showed no significant change due to the installation. Actually, the number of offences occurring during the hours of switch-off dropped by 14% in Maldon, and by 12.6% in Uttlesford.

However, since 2007, it is one of the first times the scheme ended up with an area’s lights turned back on. Four roads in Pilgrims Hatch have recently had their street lights turned back on after midnight at the request of Essex Police, following a sharp rise in the rate of burglaries- among the 17 cases, homes have been burgled, cars were stolen, cash and possessions were snatched or damaged.

On the other hand, although acting Inspector Scott Kingsnorth requested the switch-on in April, he insists there is no correlation between the scheme and the rate of burglary. “The reason behind switching them back on was public reassurance. It was because people felt vulnerable with the lights off.” He further added, “But we had offences when lights were on as well. We can’t make a link.”

One victim of this unfortunate situation, Mr Watson- who believes there is a link between the light switch-off and the surge in crime- said: “You can’t see the hand in front of your face when the lights are off. And all Essex County Council are doing is saving each household a few pounds. There must be a better way to saving money.” Others are actually losing more than just their belongings. Mr Nichol from the Brentwood area lost a job he was due to complete because of the theft of his tools worth £3000. He said: “I think the light switch-off is at least partly responsible for what has happened. We never had a problem in our street before and now suddenly this.” Another victim, Mike Coles lost his Kawasaki bike and still feels threatened as he takes his morning walks at 4a.m with his dog and a torch.

Residents who have not been robbed think it is not long before they are the next victim, too, especially the most vulnerable ones such as the elderly. Even if there is no evidence that there is an increased risk, people may fear that they are at an increased risk of crime. In fact, fear of crime can influence people’s behaviour – for e.g. they may be discouraged to go out after dark, or they may feel less safe at home.

They definitely want the lights back on.

At the same time, according to County and borough councillor David Kendall, “We raised concerns about possible increases in crime and antisocial behaviour…but we were ignored. He further adds, “I share residents’ concerns that the switch to part-nighttime lighting in Brentwood …could be a contributing factor in the number of burglaries that have taken place…” He also said, “I would like to see the decision to switch off our lights reversed as soon as possible because the £63,000 a year saving is not worth it if residents’ safety and wellbeing is being put at risk…Perhaps they will now wake up and realise this is a serious issue that needs to be properly addressed.”

Home owners even came up with other possible solutions:

1. Only switch off every other light (1 in 2).

2. Replace the lighting with new technologies (such as LED, solar power or induction lights. Eastbourne in East Sussex UK is currently undergoing a project to see 6000 of its street lights converted to LED and will be closely followed by Hastings in early 2014).

3. Pay to keep the street light on.

4. Turn the lights off until the trains and buses cease to operate/ Turn the lights on earlier to enable commuters’ safe passage to train and bus terminals.

Yet the Council is determined to stick to its scheme so far, simply because these solutions do not enable it to meet its objectives of reducing energy consumption and light pollution. Option 1 is inappropriate as it would mean lots of variations in the level of street lighting. Besides, new technology is currently unsuitable for highway lighting in Essex and is relatively expensive. However Essex County Council promises to keep on monitoring the development of new technology that is carbon and cost effective.

While criminals undoubtedly enjoy operating in the cover of darkness, home owners have to be twice as cautious concerning home security. Until a potential alternative of saving the environment and energy costs -instead of foregoing street lighting- is found, home owners have to be constantly on their guard and ensure they follow the Few Easy Steps for Better Security at Home to keep burglars at bay and don’t leave your safety and security in the hand of the authority, contact RSG Security NOW on 0208 123 1088.