Street light switch-off agreed

Controversial plans to switch off up to 27,000 street lights across Norfolk between midnight and 5am have been agreed, despite claims it will lead to a surge in crime.

Controversial plans to switch off up to 27,000 street lights across Norfolk between midnight and 5am have been agreed, despite claims it will lead to a surge in crime.

County council bosses say the move, over the next three years, will save �167,000 each year, while cutting the council's annual carbon emissions by about 1,000 tonnes, but critics argue crime will increase and better alternatives to the part switch off could have been found.

The switch-off was agreed at a stormy meeting of the county council's cabinet yesterday where tension between councillors representing rural Norfolk and urban Norwich ran high.

A fortnight ago the Norwich area committee, which is made up of county councillors who represent divisions in the city, called for the decision to be delayed and for a pilot scheme to be tested.

Yesterday it also emerged that, of parish councils consulted, 28 were in favour of the switch-off and 21 were against the plans.

Cabinet members agreed to push ahead with the plans, insisting lights will not be switched off in city centres, on major roads or in high crime areas, with a string of possible exemptions identified where lights will not be switched off.

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Those exemptions include in streets with CCTV cameras, where lights have been installed to prevent accidents and places where police can demonstrate there will be an increase in crime and anti-social behaviour if the streets were blacked out.

Adrian Gunson, cabinet member for planning and transportation, said: “Lights will not be switched off on busy roads, in the city centre or in high crime areas.

“On the implication that crime will rise if the lights are switched off between midnight and 5am, then why is it that many villages around Norfolk with no lighting do not have crime waves? There is no evidence that darkness creates crime.”

Police last week broke their silence over the proposals to say they did not object to the plan in principle, but would not want lights turned off in crime and anti-social behaviour hot spots.

The roll-out will take place over the next three years, when the current lights will be replaced with new models fitted with cells which switch off after midnight.

Letters will be sent to people in streets ahead of the switch off and Mike Jackson, director of planning and transportation will use the responses to decide on exemptions, in consultation the cabinet member for planning and transportation.

But Bert Bremner, who represents Norwich's University ward on the county and district council, described the plans as “the Big Tory Black-Out' and said the concerns of district and parish councils were being ignored.

He said: “Many still don't understand what is to happen or the appalling consequences. If you live off a main road in Norwich, Great Yarmouth, King's Lynn and Thetford and other towns the chances are that all your lights will be switched off at midnight, and so will your neighbouring residential streets.”

Marcus Helmsley, Green county councillor for Norwich's Wensum division, said: “Clearly there is a need to save carbon and cut costs, but do you honestly believe that this hastily conceived proposal, which has limited flexibility of operation, offers relatively few savings of costs and carbon and does not take into account options such as generating revenue from renewable energy with the government's new feed-in-tariffs, is the very best we can do for the people of Norwich?”

Bill Borrett, cabinet member for corporate affairs and efficiency, said: “There has been a measure of hysteria in this room and if I believed some of the things I've heard…

“People are comparing the known with the unknown and saying it will be terrible and it is hard to disprove them. But we need to take a reasonable approach to this and what is being proposed is a very measured and reasoned proposal.

“It includes commitments and reassurances on going forward. There is not a consensus in the room because it's an unknown. But as a council Norfolk County Council has taken brave steps in the past and have been proved to be right and we can be a vanguard on this.

“It is a brave step and there are issues which it is quite right to discuss, but the exemptions which have been proposed are very sensible and this is a measured proposal.”

George Nobbs, leader of the Labour group and county councillor for Norwich's Crome division, stormed out of the meeting, saying it was a “waste of time” as “the decision was already made.”

Simon Wright, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Norwich South, accused the council of rushing through the proposals.

He said: “The discussions in the meeting barely constituted a debate. In little more than fifteen minutes, councillors brushed aside the huge range of concerns and agreed to go ahead without a trial and without proper consultation.

“I attended the meeting in the hope that the comments made by those who live in Norwich and which were represented in my consultation would be fully discussed, but this didn't happen. It appeared that the decision had been made before the meeting even started.”

To see a list of the streets currently earmarked to have lights switched off visit