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Dim view of street lights proposal

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Controversial proposals to turn off street lighting to save money could increase crime and put residents at risk, a Fenland mayor has claimed.

Chatteris mayor James Carney hit out at Cambridgeshire County Council’s plan to slash night lighting, and said his town council would do everything it could to make sure they stayed on.

His comments came after town councillors reluctantly agreed to take on the cost of keeping just over 500 lights on, if the authority presses ahead with the move.

The £6,161 bill for 2016/17 would be funded through a five per cent precept increase – meaning council tax payers would pay an extra £1.95 a year (for a Band D property).

Mr Carney said: “We don’t agree with the proposals that have been put before us, but we decided to take on the cost of the lighting for the safety of our residents.

“Turning them off could lead to an increase in crime, an increase in fear of crime, and puts the safety of those returning home late at night or leaving early for work at risk.”

In Wisbech, residents have just two days to say whether they want their street lights to stay on before a decision is made. Wisbech Town Council is asking if it should spend £17,403 to keep its 1,449 lights on, with the consultation ending on Friday.

The county council, which needs to make more than £100 million in savings over the next five years, says it is looking to follow the lead of more than 60 councils across the country by switching off or dimming street lights.

It is proposing to increase its current period of street light dimming from 8pm or 10pm until 6am, or turning off lights on main traffic routes from midnight until 6am, in order to shave around £272,000 from an annual cost of more than £1.1 million.

The cost of keeping street lights on across Cambridgeshire would be £12 per light per year (increasing by inflation and fuel costs each year), plus an annual administrative charge of £65.

Wisbech Town Council would also fund its street lighting bill through a budget rise of 8.4 per cent – equating to £2.91 a year for a Band D property.

Wisbech councillor Virginia Bucknor said she was “outraged” by the county council’s proposal.

“Wisbech is a 24/7 town with many people working shift patterns. Some are finishing work at 2am or 3am, and others are just starting, so it’s essential, in this modern age, that we have street lighting,” she added.

Councillor Anthony Mitchell, from Bar Hill Parish Council, near Cambridge, also contacted the Citizen about the plans, saying he had “grave concerns” about its impact on road safety.

He said the council’s proposals failed to consider a coroner’s Rule 43 report, now called prevention of future deaths report, in 2012 following the death of a man in a Milton Keynes road traffic accident.

It said that a “lack of street lighting played a prominent part as a possible causation factor in this collision”.

As a result Milton Keynes council reconsidered its part night-time lighting policy, saying failure to do so “might result in a continued risk of further road traffic accidents resulting in death or serious injury”.

Mr Carney and Mrs Bucknor said both Chatteris and Wisbech town councils were also angry that the plan comes just four years after Cambridgeshire was given £100 million in government funding to replace its street lights with new energy efficient ones.

“The idea was that they would be better and more sustainable long-term, but now they want to switch them off,” said Mr Carney.

“It just doesn’t make sense.”

A spokesman for March Town Council said it was waiting for the outcome of the county council’s public consultation into the plan, which starts next month, before making any decisions on whether it would fund street lighting.

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