OPINION: Crime will still happen whether street lights are on or off

Steve Barber, a resident of Heathgate, is angry about the bright street lights and untidy grass area

Crime will happen whether streets are lit or not, says David Hook of the CPRE. - Credit: Archant

David Hook of the Campaign To Protect Rural England (CPRE) Norfolk responds to Rachel Moore's column on the need for street lighting to make women feel safer at night

Part night lighting, eg when street lights are switched off from midnight till dawn, at least ensures that natural darkness, with all the benefits it provides to the natural world, in energy saving and for the enjoyment of the night sky and landscape, is present for a few hours each day.

A 2019 report supported previous studies in suggesting that: “Part night lighting regimes may provide the best solution to reducing the influence of artificial night lighting on nocturnal wildlife and mitigating its ecological impacts.”

Part night lighting has been successfully introduced in many locations throughout the UK.

As well as reducing the impacts of light pollution it has also resulted in cost savings and reductions in CO2 emissions while at the same time the switching off of street lights has not been associated with increases in crime or road accidents. 

In some areas crime has actually reduced following the introduction of part night lighting.

In Maldon and Uttlesford in Essex crime rates have fallen significantly since 2005 (part night lighting in both districts was introduced in 2006).

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In fact Maldon has experienced a greater reduction in crime than for the East of England as a whole and a fall greater than Braintree where street lights remained switched on all night.

Surveys also indicate that the introduction of part night lighting has had no long term impact on fear of crime. Between 2006 and 2013 the percentage of people feeling safe outside after dark has increased significantly in Maldon and Uttlesford more than in other areas.

Essex County Council has over 70% of its 129,000 street lights operating as part night lighting.

A report commissioned by Roger Hirst, the police, fire and crime commissioner for Essex, revealed that there was no evidence that: “Turning street lights off at night causes an increase in crime, anti-social behaviour or serious injuries and deaths on the county’s roads.”

Many other counties now operate part night lighting. Derbyshire County Council introduced switch-offs in 2012 and explained as follows: “Given the very low level of complaints we receive about part night street lighting and the lack of evidence to link those concerns with increases in crime or accidents, we now consider this to be the established operating regime for those lights.”  

Hampshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Nottinghamshire, Dorset, Bath and North East Somerset, Surrey Gloucestershire are just some of the many English authorities operating part night lighting schemes.

Many Welsh councils including Powys, Caerphilly, Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Monmouthshire, and Bridgend also switch off street lights for part of the night.

Not everyone supports part night lighting in spite of its benefits and each time there is an after dark attack some voices are raised calling for lights to be switched back to dusk to dawn sensors. In reality however there is little or no evidence that lighting deters criminals.

A study by Surrey Police found that there is no statistical correlation between crime and street lighting and in fact most attacks take place in well lit places – in Norfolk two of the most dangerous places, Great Yarmouth seafront and the streets around Norwich club land are highly illuminated.

There is in fact evidence that dimly lit places are safer because in such locations criminals have problems identifying suitable targets and of course in completely dark places they cannot even see potential victims.

Part night lighting has provided valuable evidence to inform the debate as to whether lighting is an effective crime prevention measure.

It has made possible a comparison of crime rates in a particular area “before and after” lights are switched off.

The overwhelming conclusion is that lighting has no impact on crime and in fact in some places crime has fallen when the lights are switched off.