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Local government money saving idea unites motorists and cyclists in opposition

A growing number of local authorities across the UK are planning on turning off street lights to save money, prompting concern among MPs, motoring bodies and cyclists.

According to the BBC, the UK’s 7.5 million street lights cost about £500m a year to power.

In the face of swingeing central government budget cuts, many local authorities across the country are thinking about turning theirs off.

Buckinghamshire County Council said it had turned off 1,600 of the 28,000 street lights around the county and was saving about £700,000 a year as a result.

Spokesman Keith Carpenter told the BBC, "I can assure people that we are carefully monitoring this trial. We have the intention of saving money but without compromising road safety."

Similar schemes have already started or are planned elsewhere, including Swansea, Somerset, Essex, Leicestershire, Devon, Shropshire and parts of Yorkshire.

In Somerset, the council said turning off 500 lights between 0030 and 0500 would save £18,500 a year and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 122 tonnes a year. It had already carried out a two-year trial of switching off lights on parts of the A370 and A371.

Councillors in Leicestershire have said a scheme which permanently switched off 60 street lights - and turned off 1,300 village lamps between midnight and 0530 – had saved money.

Commons Transport Select Committee chairwoman Louise Ellman said she feared safety was being compromised. Mrs Ellman said, "I am extremely concerned that financial pressures are leading to steps which can jeopardise people’s lives and increase the number of injuries. We've made great progress in recent years in reducing the number of deaths and injuries on our roads.

“It would be tragic if by switching the lights off that progress was to be put back many years."

AA president Edmund King has voiced similar fears to the Daily Telegraph, following a study showing that driving in the dark is more dangerous. While only a quarter of drivers are on the road between 7pm and 8am, that period accounts for 40 per cent of crashes.

Mr King said, "There is a fear that in some areas these switch-offs could lead to more crashes and crime. Lighting can improve safety for drivers, riders, and pedestrians and deter street crime.

“The public are in favour of street lighting as a way of improving road safety. Cyclists and pedestrians are more at risk on unlit streets."

"Local authorities should consider more environmentally-friendly lighting, that can save them £46 a light, rather than putting us all in the dark. In terms of reducing CO2, AA research shows that local authorities will have more effect improving traffic flow than turning off the lights."

The CTC’s Chris Peck said, "The existence of street lighting gives legal effect to the 30mph speed limit. If lights are not illuminated some drivers may take this as a signal to increase speeds at night, leading to a more hazardous road environment.

"An alternative is to allow more local authorities to adopt 20 mph speed limits, which have to be clearly signed as such. If determined to change lighting patterns councils need to be careful that drivers are aware of the need to look out for vulnerable road users, such as cyclists."

Lifelong lover of most things cycling-related, from Moulton Mini adventures in the 70s to London bike messengering in the 80s, commuting in the 90s, mountain biking in the noughties and road cycling throughout. Editor of Simpson Magazine (www.simpsonmagazine.cc).