A cash-strapped London council has been accused of treating women’s safety as ‘an afterthought’ by campaigners after it announced plans to dim thousands of street lights at night.
Havering London Borough Council says it will lower the brightness of 4,000 lights on its main roads between midnight and 5am in a bid to cut costs that could force it into bankruptcy.
The local authority said last week it had passed its ‘toughest budget ever’ with huge cuts amid a £32.5million deficit which is projected to rise to £81.9million over the next four years.
However, the move has been criticised by campaigners who say that it puts women at risk from predatory men who are emboldened by the dimmed lights.
Our Streets Now, a group which fights to end the public sexual harassment of women and girls, claimed the council was treating their safety as ‘an afterthought’.
London Havering Borough Council has announced plans to dim thousands of street lights in a bid to cut costs. Pictured: The entrance to Havering Town Hall at night
Women’s safety campaigners have blasted the decision, saying it could put them at risk. Pictured: A dimly lit road at night (file image)
A spokesperson for the group told the Telegraph: ‘It’s disappointing, but unsurprising, to hear that women’s safety has been an afterthought in plans to cut costs,’ a spokesman told The Telegraph.
‘We know from research, from our members, and from the experiences of women and girls up and down the country that low and no street lighting poses a risk to their safety.’
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which supports victims of stalking, said that while it lacks recent research, historical surveys showed that ‘the majority of respondents perceive their personal safety to be more at risk in areas where dimming or switching off of streetlights occurs’.
A spokesperson for the charity told MailOnline: ‘What we would want to know is to what extent has the council consulted with local people about the proposed changes and how will they monitor the impact of the changes on people’s feelings of, and actual, safety?
‘In addition, we would emphasise that street lighting in any case is not the answer to tackling crime including violence against women and girls and we would urge the council to publish their wider plans to tackle this.’
The council’s leader, Ray Morgan, said he ‘fully recognised the worries around safety’ and that lights on residential roads would ‘remain on full power and brightness’.
Councillor Ray Morgon, Leader of Havering Council, said ‘We fully recognise the worries around safety and this is why, in our budget savings, we are only proposing plans to dim the street lights on our main roads between 12am and 5am. Street lighting on residential roads would remain on full power and brightness. This has been consulted on as part of the budget consultation where nearly 4,000 people responded.
‘With regards to the question around dimming lights, the majority of respondents to that question felt the street lighting proposals would have little or no impact on either them personally (59 per cent) or the community (42 per cent).
‘Indeed some respondents felt the proposals would have a positive impact on themselves (24 per cent) and on the community (29 per cent) than a negative impact.
‘There has some concern expressed during consultation that this may lead to an increase in some crime but Officers who have been involved in similar schemes in other boroughs found no evidence of this.
‘We will of course consult with the police and relevant partners to ensure lighting that supports CCTV provision is not compromised.’
Speaking after the council passed its budget last week, Cllr Morgan said the local authority was ‘effectively bankrupt’ and would have to issue a section 114 notice unless the Government approved a £54million loan.
The council, which is run by a coalition of the Havering Residents Association and Labour, said it plans to raise council tax by 4.99 per cent but this would not be enough due to a surge in demand for adult and children’s social care.
It said this, coupled with cost of living increases, a reduction in housing that has led to a rise in homelessness and temporary accommodation costs and ‘systemic underfunding from government’ has left it on the brink.
Many councils across the country have been trying to find ways to stay solvent amid an unprecedented funding crisis that has seen some forced into bankruptcy.
London Havering Borough Council said it had to cut costs as it is on the brink of bankruptcy. Pictured: A single dim streetlight illuminating a narrow street (file image)
Last year Cornwall Council announced plans to switch off 35,000 street lights in a bid to cut costs. Pictured: Street lights shining at night in the Cornwall seaside town of St Ives
In December campaigners blasted a decision by Cornwall Council to switch off 35,000 street lights between midnight and 5am as it sought to cut costs.
The Women’s Centre Cornwall said it had concerns about women’s safety in public spaces as a result of the change and it could lead women to ‘taking even more precautions then they are already forced to’.
The charity emphasised the root of the problem was ‘misogynistic beliefs held by perpetrators who harass and abuse women in public spaces’.
According to the charity, national statistics show that the majority of women are at risk from men known to them, rather than from strangers in public spaces, stating 6 in 7 rapes against women across England & Wales are perpetrated by someone they know.
A spokesperson for the charity said: ‘The decision to turn off 35,000 street lights across Cornwall between midnight – 5am could unfortunately lead women to take even more precautions than they are already forced to, however we would emphasise that the root of the problem is the misogynistic beliefs held by perpetrators who harass and abuse women in public spaces.
‘We recently carried out a ‘Walk My Walk’ survey which showed only 6% of women respondents said that street lights would help them feel safer on the streets of Cornwall. The majority of women said we need to address the root cause of violence and abuse through education and cultural change.’
Cornwall said it would turn off 35,000 of its 56,000 street lights, while all other lights that remain on would be dimmed after revealing the cost of turning its lights on would increase by over £1million a year.
A spokesperson for the council said: ‘Street lighting is subject to the effects of considerable energy cost inflation.
‘The prices went up by 92 per cent last October – effectively doubling – and have changed little since then.
‘We are doing what we can to mitigate these increases, including introducing the LED bulb replacement programme which in turn enables the night-time switch off.
‘It allows us to dim the lights that stay on, as well as turning lights on later in the evening, and off earlier in the morning.
‘These initiatives will deliver savings, although cost inflation and market forces make it challenging to provide accurate predictions.’