'Lights out' plan for Exeter prompts protests
By Exeter Express and Echo | Thursday, September 06, 2012, 06:45
CONCERNS are growing over plans to switch off streetlights overnight across the city.
Devon County Council is spending £1.7m on technology which will allow it to switch off or dim the lights in residential areas between 12.30am and 5am.
It plans to introduce the measure in Exeter next spring in a bid to save £138,000 and up to 1,600 tonnes of carbon annually by turning off 10,000 of the city's 14,000 lights.
Main road lighting and areas of high night-time activity, such as the city centre, will remain lit all night, though they could occasionally be dimmed.
But residents' groups, students and councillors have expressed concerns about the plan and claim there has been no proper consultation.
City students say they are making it their number one priority to prevent the switch-off because of fears over safety.
Grace Hopper, the Guild of Students' vice-president for welfare and community, said: "The council's plans to switch off our streetlights after minimal consultation with the public is not just a huge concern for safety-conscious students, but the residents of Exeter as a whole.
"Many routes that students use on a regular basis will be heavily affected, in which case there will undoubtedly be unease and anxiety.
"I will be heading up the Save Our Streetlights (SOS) campaign to raise awareness of the council's proposed plan."
She added: "Over the following months I will work closely with members of the community, so that residents as well as students have their say in such an important issue.
"Together, I believe we can save our streetlights, and send a message to the council that the welfare of those travelling at night is not an issue open to debate."
Michael Parrott, of Newtown Community Association, said: "Due to the close proximity to the city centre and nightclubs, a number of people do walk through Newtown to get home late at night and in the early hours of the morning and therefore I certainly feel that at least some areas should remain lit."
Members of Polsloe Community Association also have concerns and the issue has been put on the agenda for its next meeting in October.
Richard Westlake, county councillor for Polsloe and Newtown said: "Devon County Council has not consulted in our area at all – the only consultation they have done has been in Pinhoe. The whole process is being done in a very amateurish way. At the moment residents and councillors are confused as to what is happening."
Polsloe city councillor Yolonda Henson said: "The problems with anti-social behaviour is when the clubs come out – and that's when the lights will be out. The problems will not necessarily be in the city centre but in the roads through which students are walking home. I am worried about this and believe it will cost us in the end – what is saved in energy costs will cost in terms of anti-social behaviour and is going to be thrown on to the police."
Councillor Pete Edwards, leader of the city council, said the county should call meetings specifically to consult residents on the issue.
Superintendent Jim Gale, responsible for policing in Exeter, Mid and East Devon said: "We would be constantly monitoring it and if we felt the risk of being a victim had risen we would look at things such as increased patrols or more lighting."
A spokesman for Devon County Council said there has been no rise in crime in parts of Devon which have already introduced the scheme, including Exmouth in 2010, and said there would be more consultation in Exeter. He said: "We know there will be concerns from some areas of the city, and that's what we're hoping to get a feel for from the consultation, before final decisions about the detail are made."