by Cllr. Robin Parker C.C

There has been a lot of concern expressed locally about the recent street light switch off. I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues at Hertfordshire County Council opposed this Conservative policy of Part Night Lighting (PNL), in that we wanted more flexibility. PNL may be OK for some rural areas but not dense urban areas like Stevenage.

Whatever your view, here are the facts.

Most street lighting in Hertfordshire is the responsibility of Hertfordshire County Council (HCC). Of the remainder, some lights are the responsibility of Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) and some are private. In early 2011, the ruling Conservative group at HCC decided to roll out a programme of PNL across all of Hertfordshire. The Liberal Democrats,are the main opposition group at HCC and we opposed this from the start. Later, Labour jumped on the bandwagon. However, it was forced through against our objections and the programme got to Stevenage in May 2012. That is why PNL is now in operation throughout Hertfordshire. I believe all areas of Hertfordshire have now been converted to PNL. SBC and private lights are not affected.

Under the PNL programme, about 80% of HCC lights go out from midnight to 6 am. There is a long list of exceptions, which stay on all night. The exceptions include near traffic calming, at roundabouts, near town centres and shopping centres (although in the case of Stevenage most of these are unaffected as they are SBC lights), lights requested to be left on by the police, A roads, near CCTV, near bollards, some junctions, etc.

The plan was to save £1.1 million a year in energy costs (at current prices) and the capital cost of the project was about £4.3 million; thus the payback time will be about 4 years. HCC also claim it will lower carbon emissions.

All councils need to save money at present and, in recognition of this fact, the Liberal Democrats suggested alternative savings, for example to the huge expenditure each year by HCC on self publicity and glossy brochures, but we were outvoted by the Conservatives.

County councillors like me were allowed only the following, only in their own division (in my case Chells Division, which is all of Chells and all of Chells Manor):

1. To suggest dangerous sites where they requested the lights be left on. I suggested many in Chells Division and all of them were rejected by officials as not dangerous enough. I have no power to change this.

2. To decide (not suggest) that lights along footpaths be left on all night. That is, footpaths remote from roads, not pavements. To do this I had to visit all areas of Chells Division and note the numbers of all lights I wanted to be left on along footpaths remote from roads. This I did in March 2012 and all have been left on in Chells Division at my request. If you spot any that are not on all night in Chells Division, let me know, because I have not only visited them all in advance to identify them but I have also checked that they actually are on, after midnight. Many county councillors did not do this so their footpath lights will be under PNL.

We gave as much publicity as I could in the weeks leading up to the switch off to all of the above, in Stevenage local media (radio, newspapers) and our party leaflets and the Liberal Democrats ran a petition against PNL.

One major concern about PNL is that crime will increase as a result of PNL. I share that concern and I said so as soon as PNL was a possibility. However, the most recent police crime statistics for those areas of Hertfordshire that have had PNL for the longest period of time (about a year, now) and all other areas that were turned off before Stevenage, show that in fact crime including car  break-ins have reduced significantly since PNL was introduced. However, I have requested figures specifically for Stevenage and for a full year of PNL and when these become available I will study them with interest. I am also interested road accident figures but these have not yet been supplied.

There is still the petition on the Stevenage Liberal Democrats web site:

Stevenage Part Night Lighting Petition

However, the Conservatives have already ignored our opposition to PNL for the last 18 months, so your best bet now is to express your view to the person who is the elected county councillor who is in charge of highways issues, including PNL, and who pushed PNL through HCC. He is Conservative county councillor Stuart Pile, who represents Hatfield South, and you can write to him at:

Stuart Pile C.C.

Hertfordshire County Council

County Hall

Hertford

SG13 8DF

Or e mail him at  [email protected]