By Julia Roberts
Council chiefs have again been accused of keeping residents in the dark over their decision to switch off street lights after it was revealed Kent Police told them they cannot support the scheme.
Kent County Council has always stated the force was one of several organisations involved in consultations before it introduced its Safe and Sensible initiative across the county in April.
However, it can now be revealed that while police were consulted, the message to KCC was that it could not back the action as street lighting is known to reduce crime – particularly burglary and theft.
Gravesend resident Tina Brooker, who is leading the fight for KCC to reverse its decision to plunge many rural and residential roads into darkness between midnight and 6am, branded council statements as “misleading”.
Previously, KCC has said 75% of respondents backed the move. It later emerged just 546 of Kent’s 1.5 million residents had responded to consultation.
Miss Brooker said: “What this means is that KCC has told them what they are doing. It does not mean they are in agreement.”
An email from Kent Police to Miss Brooker, who lives in The Warren, said: “This is a project owned by and being rolled out by Kent County Council and I can confirm that Kent Police cannot support the reduction in street lighting, as street lighting is proven to support reductions in crime (as indicated in a report published by the College of Policing).
“KCC are aware that we cannot support their initiative.”
The statement continues it is too early to assess the impact the lack of street lighting is having on crime, but that Kent Police continues to monitor the situation.
The aim of KCC’s scheme is to reduce energy costs, carbon emissions and light pollution by turning off about 70,000 surplus lights – 60% of the county’s 120,000 lights – between midnight and 5.30am, or 1am and 6.30am during British Summer Time.
Fellow campaigner Daryl Lucas, of Woodfield Avenue, Gravesend, has previously criticised KCC’s consultation process that saw just 546 residents countywide respond.
Of the police stance, he said: “They may have said they consulted with Kent Police, however it appears they didn’t like what the result was and chose to ignore it.”
A College of Policing report said street lighting is highly cost-effective and can “reduce crime, improve the public’s feelings of security, requires no intrusive surveillance and does not impinge on aspects of civil liberties”.
It added: “Senior police officers should therefore feel confident in lobbying for improved lighting as a necessary component of any crime reduction initiative.”
Miss Brooker set up an online petition, Right to Light, with Gravesham council – which amassed more than 1,500 signatures to trigger discussion by members on September 30. She has also enlisted the support of personal safety charity The Suzy Lamplugh Trust as well as contacted organisations such as the AA and RoSPA.
Miss Brooker has also asked KCC to consider intermittent lighting, only to be told by an officer it would have potential safety implications. However, RoSPA has said it has not seen any evaluations based on every other light being lit, and would be “very interested” in the results if KCC were to trial the idea. The AA has also warned that black-outs could be at the cost of injuries and even lives. Assistant Chief Constable Rob Price said: “Kent Police cannot support the reduction of street lighting as it is proven to support reductions in crime.
“However, Kent Police recognises the reasons that this project is under way.”We also recognise the careful and considered approach that KCC has taken with this project and we are grateful to KCC for thoroughly consulting with Kent Police.?”
“They may have said they consulted with Kent Police, however it appears they didn’t like what the result was and chose to ignore it…” – campaigner Daryl Lucas
Behdad Haratbar, head of programmed work for KCC’s highways unit, said: “We carried out a consultation, with advertising and publicity in local newspapers and on radio, and via social media, before implementing the switch-off of streetlights and 75% of respondents backed our move to introduce part-night lighting – switching off street lights when they are least needed, between midnight and 5.30am.
“We continue to work closely with Kent Police to monitor road accidents and crime. “We will review the lighting requirements if any increase can be attributed to the absence of street lighting.”Around 60% of all local authorities are now engaged in some sort of move to reduce lighting – and our approach has been praised by The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and the Institute of Advanced Motorists. “The county council is not switching off any street lights in town centers, areas with CCTV, antisocial behaviour areas, at busy road junctions, roundabouts or sites with road safety issues.”We worked closely with senior officers from Kent Police when developing the street lighting policy. Our proposals were also discussed with the Kent Association of Local Councils and all 12 Joint Transportation Boards, where local councilors review transport issues.”We have to find an additional £273million of savings over the next three years. Switching off street lights when they are least needed will deliver an annual saving of around £1 million. This will be used to support frontline services.”It will also cut carbon emissions by 5,000 tonnes annually and reduce light pollution. These lights are plotted on the map available at http://www.kent.gov.uk/streetlights.”;
Roberts,J.(2014)Kent Police cannot support Kent County Council’s part-time street lights scheme, it is revealed[Online] http://www.kentonline.co.uk/gravesend/news/police-dont-support-part-time-street-lights-22995/ )Accessed 17th September 2014