There is growing concern about the increasing number of councils in England and Wales that are considering turning off street lights.

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The UK county of Norfolk is home to excellent locations for observing the stars. It was also one of the rare places where the aurora borealis could be seen this winter, thanks to its unpolluted dark skies.

The council is facing opposition from concerned groups who are worried about personal safety, particularly for women who are alone, in their efforts to make Norfolk roads even darker.

In the past 15 years, most councils in England and Wales have implemented policies to reduce the brightness or completely turn off street lights, resulting in significant annual cost savings for some.

Local governments facing financial challenges have implemented deeper budget cuts in order to address significant deficits. Croydon, Cornwall, Havering, and Hampshire are the most recent to announce their intentions to turn off street lights.

The Norfolk council reported that the expenses for operating their 54,000 street lights had increased by over 100% in the past few years, reaching approximately £4 million annually.

Since 2008, it has saved £15m by implementing LED lighting that is more energy efficient. It has also dimmed some lights and turned off approximately 20,000 others between the hours of midnight and 5am. After consulting with the police and community members, it plans to expand this practice to additional streets and extend the hours of darkness.

In November, over 200 students from the University of East Anglia requested for cuts to be halted, as 94% of surveyed students expressed a preference for street lights to remain on for a longer period for their safety.

Campaign groups across the country are expressing concern about the potential negative impacts of darker neighborhoods on public safety.

Our Streets Now and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which works to combat stalking, expressed concerns this week about city councils’ decisions to reduce street lighting. The organization stated that the safety of women is being disregarded.

Research shows mixed results on the impact of dimly lit streets on crime rates. A 2022 investigation conducted by University College London in Oxfordshire and Berkshire revealed a 50% decrease in car thefts when street lights were turned off during late hours.

A comprehensive evaluation of the College of Policing’s research on 13 studies revealed that enhancing street lighting led to an average decrease of 21% in violent and property crimes.

There is a lack of studies focused on the safety of women when lights are dimmed or turned off, but it is evident that there is still a noticeable impact.

Dr. Anna Barker, an associate professor of criminal justice and criminology at Leeds University, emphasized the significance of perceptions. She conducted a research last year focused on enhancing park design, which involved interviewing over 100 women and girls. According to her, when individuals feel unsafe, their behavior is affected. As a result, women tend to avoid places or times when they feel unsafe, or choose not to use them alone.

The speaker also mentioned that installing street lights is not a complete solution and is only one aspect of improving accessibility in public areas. “Lighting is just one step. It’s not the sole factor in addressing women’s safety in public spaces.”

Architect and lighting designer Dr. Elettra Bordonaro, who is a co-founder of Light Follows Behaviour, a company that specializes in outdoor spaces, pointed out the importance of acknowledging the class divide when it comes to lighting. While wealthier areas may be able to afford to have darker spaces, it would not be practical to apply the same standard to more dangerous areas, especially in low-income neighborhoods. In her work with social housing estates, Bordonaro recommends increasing lighting rather than reducing it.

According to her, achieving the desired evenness may require additional light points instead of simply illuminating everything like a prison.

In addition to the monetary advantages, there could be other positive aspects to decreasing street lighting.

According to Dr. Richard Fox, the leader of the science team at Butterfly Conservation, a study on moths revealed that street lights have a major effect, causing a decrease of over 50% in moth caterpillar populations in certain areas.

Moths play a crucial role in the food chain and are an important part of the diets of various animals, including bats, hedgehogs, amphibians, and birds. According to experts, many common garden birds like blue tits and great tits rely primarily on moth caterpillars for sustenance.

“If the population of moth caterpillars decreases by 50%, which was observed under the LED streetlights, then that means a loss of half of the food for the birds.”

He emphasized that there has not been any specific research on the impact of dimming or turning off lights at night on wildlife. However, it appears that it would be beneficial to human beings to turn off street and outdoor lights during times when they are not necessary.


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