Labour’s Hilary Benn tells Channel 4 News that cuts in street lighting have made roads more dangerous and people feel unsafe walking home in the dark.
Three quarters of council areas have dimmed or switched off lights to save money, according to Labour party research.
“Street lights ensure that people are safe on our roads and feel safe walking home, especially at this time of the year when the nights have drawn in.” said Mr Benn.
“Our research shows, however, that significant areas of Britain have been plunged into darkness since May 2010 as a result of David Cameron and Eric Pickles’ policies. Eric Pickles has even boasted that he ‘loves’ switching off streetlights, which will do nothing to reassure people walking home in the dark.”
The argument that lack of street lighting has a negative effect on road safety seems relatively clear cut. According to the AA, Department for Transport figures show that, in 2013, the likelihood of a night-time accident along a 40mph town and city road without street lighting grew to 21 per cent. In wet, snow or icy conditions, the odds surged from 21.99 per cent in 2012 to 24.33 per cent last year.
“New official road safety statistics show that accident rates on blacked-out town and city roads are not getting better. In fact, on 40mph roads, they are getting much worse – particularly in bad weather. This is the type of road where most of the fatalities, for which coroners blamed street-light switch-offs as a contributory factor, happened,” said Edmund King, the AA’s president.
But as for crime, it’s a little harder to tell. Mr Benn says that turning off street lighting led to a spike in burglaries in the constituency of Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government, pointing to this article as evidence. But there is little evidence of a rise in crime elsewhere.
Mr Pickles has previously said switching off street lights can save money and cut crime.
And are people really that bothered about walking around in the dark? On Twitter, opinion is mixed.
@Channel4News Don’t feel that safe walking down streets at night with lights.
— CreweCitizen (@CreweCitizen) December 22, 2014
@Channel4News Not 100%. I do live in quite a good area though.
— Tom Slominski (@tomslominski) December 22, 2014
@Channel4News The darker it is the safer you are. I found this in India. Everyone is invisible. I walked straight into a sleeping cow.
— Josa Young (@JosaYoung) December 22, 2014
@Channel4News out here in the sticks we need a torch its that dark outside since they turned the street lamps off
— Mike (@wickwar) December 22, 2014
@Channel4News weren’t trials done in Essex on this and actually…crime dropped?
— Jean Lambert Office (@OfficeGreenJean) December 22, 2014
Speaking to Channel 4 News, Local Government Minister Penny Mordaunt said she has had no complaints in her constituency and that in any case, councils must be creative in order to deal with the cuts imposed on them by central government.
Mr Benn also accepts that cuts have to be made, but says councils can keep the lights on by investing in new technologies such as LED lighting.