FEARS are growing that crime and accidents could soar when vast swathes of Rugby are plunged into darkness during the early hours of the morning.
In 15 days the county council will be switching off many of the street lights on main roads and estates between midnight and 5.30am (1am to 6.30am at weekends) in a bid to save money. The council hopes to save £500,000 across Warwickshire, but some fear the cost of increased accidents and crime may make that a false economy.
Jerry Roodhouse, leader of Warwickshire Lib Dems, said: “People are concerned about safety and crime and this is going to need regular monitoring.
“The problems for Rugby could lie in people trying to make their way home after a night out and people travelling to warehouses at DIRFT and Rugby’s industrial estates. I know there have been several near-misses when cars have almost hit people walking or cycling between home and work, and having the street lights turned off is just going to make this worse.”
Former borough councillor Bill Lewis added: “The light engineers at the council have been very helpful in addressing residents’ concerns, but it’s been a worry that some lighting outside of places like sheltered accommodation could be left in the dark.”
Milton Keynes Council reversed its decision to switch off street lights last year after 10 months following a 30 per cent increase in accidents. The AA have also reported a rise in fatal accidents of 1.8 per cent when roads are unlit and a report commissioned by the Home Office in 2002 found that improved street lighting led to an overall reduction of crime by 20 per cent. The report’s authors also described street lighting as a “cost effective crime reduction measure”.
Linda Lewis, manager of Rugby charity RoSa, which supports victims of rape and sexual abuse, said she’s also concerned by the plans as the lights act as a deterrent to criminals.
“I do understand that savings have to be made but I don’t think it should be at the expense of people’s safety,” she said.
“What does worry me is those walking home from nightclubs. I’d advise people to do simple things like walk home with friends, have sleep overs so you don’t have to be alone and use reputable taxi firms.”
Speaking about safety, Cllr Peter Butlin, portfolio holder for highways and transport, said: “There is a feeling among some that turning off the lights will have a detrimental effect on safety but this is not borne out by any evidence in other authorities where part night operation is in place. We have worked with Warwickshire Police when deciding which lights should remain on and have taken advice. We will continue to liaise with the police as the scheme is rolled out.
“Of course there will still be incidents but, based on the experience of others, we do not believe crime rates will increase.”