Stevenage fight against black-out plan

Plans to switch off street lighting in Stevenage after midnight to save cash are being opposed by the leading group on the borough council who say it will increase fear and the likelihood of crime and accidents.

The Herts County Council scheme to turn off lights between midnight and 6am is being rolled out across the county and is due to hit the town and North Herts in the spring. The Conservative-led authority estimates the move will cut over �1m a year from its energy bill to help meet a �200m budget shortfall as well as reduce its carbon emissions.

But the Labour-controlled Stevenage Borough Council said it is a move back to “the Dark Ages” and will put forward a resolution to oppose a black-out at a meeting of the full council on Wednesday.

Council leader Sharon Taylor said switching off the lights is “not right for Stevenage”.

She said one of the main concerns is it will undermine the authority’s commitment to CCTV in the town, leaving cameras ineffectual in darkness.

“In the neighbourhood centres where we have had problems with anti-social behaviour, if we turn off the lights the CCTV won’t work. We have invested heavily across the town in CCTV to make people feel safer - there is a significant gap between how safe people feel at night and how they feel in the day.”

She added: “We have a lot of people out and about at night, including a lot of young people out on the streets. I am particularly worried about young women, but also young men who may be victims of crime. We also have quite a lot of shift workers who may suffer from a straightforward issue of safety.

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“They are going back literally to the Dark Ages. They have �80m in ring-fenced reserves and �18m in un-ring-fenced reserves. What price is safety?”

Stuart Pile, highways portfolio holder at County Hall said there was no evidence from police and highway experts that safety will decline.

He said some areas would be protected from the black-out, including town centres and “other areas of significant activity”, at road junctions, crossings and roads with calming measures, and at roads with a history of accidents, as well as locations covered by CCTV.

“Before lights are converted in a specific area, we will discuss proposals with your local county councillor, so they can provide a local perspective. We are also working closely with the police to develop the best approach for areas with higher crime rates,” he added.

North Herts District Council is also concerned about the effect of the move on CCTV. A spokesman said detailed discussion will be had with HCC over the coming weeks “to map camera locations against any proposed changes and identify solutions where there could be a potential community safety issue.”

Baroness Royall, leader of the opposition in the House of Lords, will be at Stevenage’s 24-hour CCTV control room tomorrow morning (Thursday) which monitors cameras across the town, North and East Herts and Central Beds, backing Stevenage Borough Council’s campaign to keep lights on.