Headlines: February 12th, 2008

Local authorities are switching off street lights in trials that could cut carbon missions and save on energy bills. One motoring organisation has raised concerns about safety risks but the councils believe there are no increased risks and that cutting lighting will help in the fight against global warming.

Among authorities trying out the scheme is Buckinghamshire, which plans to switch off 1,700 street lights in a scheme it believes could eventually save a hundred thousand pounds a year and reduce emissionsby 590 tonnes, or ten per cent of the total created by road lighting. The trial comes after the council last year replaced 287 street lights on rural roads and in villages with more eco-friendly alternatives such as improved road markings, “intelligent” cat’s eyes and electroluminescent road signs.

Hampshire is conducting a six-month trial of switching off around 400 lights on an estate in Romsey after midnight as part of an examination of new lights and switching off times before a new contract for 140,000 street lamps across the county is agreed. In Essex lights are being turned off between midnight and five in the morning in Maldon and Uttlesford. The County Council hopes the scheme could save 54,000 pounds a year and cut energy use by almost 30 per cent. Hertfordshire is also considering a trial.

The AA has voiced worries because it believes street lighting improves safety for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians and can be a deterrent against street crime including car theft. The Association’s President, Edmund King, said, “Turning off street lights to save money or reduce CO2 may backfire in terms of increased accidents and crime. Local authorities concerned at the environmental impact should consider more environmentally friendly lighting rather than putting us all in the dark.”

Buckinghamshire County Council said that in seven monitored sites there were seven collisions between August and December 2006 when the lights were on, and just three in the same period in 2007 when the lights were off. A spokesman said, “The evidence from working groups set up to study the scheme, including the police, seems to suggest no adverse effects in terms of anti-social behaviour, repeating positive evidence from other schemes around the country.”