Call to ‘think again’ over street lighting fiasco

December 02 2013

PEOPLE power looks set to secure a review of the street lighting fiasco in the district.

PEOPLE power looks set to secure a review of the street lighting fiasco in the district.

More than 1,500 people from Downend, Manotsfield, Staple Hill and Emersons Green have signed petitions urging South Gloucestershire Council to rethink its new policy of turning street lights off early.

They say it is unsafe and will lead to an increase in crime.

Others claim it is like being in blackout Britain during the war.

Although a petition needs 2,500 signatures to force a council debate, a leading councillor has already called it ‘inevitable’ due to the strength of feeling.

Council chairman and Staple Hill councillor Ian Boulton told fellow councillors at the recent Chase Area Forum: “It’s inevitable this will have to be debated at full council.”

He spoke in response to pleas from Emerson Green resident Terry Sheen who said he feared for the safety of young people leaving pubs to walk home at night.

Mr Sheen, who runs Sheen Studios in Staple Hill, said: “It’s worse than the war years. Young people walking home late at night have to walk in total darkness. It’s bad enough for a guy but much worse for girls. I do realise the council has to save money but I don’t think this is the place to save it.”

The council has been rolling out part-time lighting across the district in a bid to save money and cut emissions. The switch off started in Mangotsfield in May, Emersons Green in June and most of Staple Hill and Downend in July.

The streets lights, which operate on a ‘solar clock’ system, are meant to go off between 11.45pm and 12.15am but recently many have been going off as early as 10.30pm.

Although the council has blamed this on a batch of faulty sensors and the lights adjusting to the end of British Summer Time, many residents say even if the lights go off when they’re supposed to, it’s still too early.

So far numerous suggestions have been made on how to solve the problem. Some say the council shouldn’t switch the lights off until 1am while others say every other light, or every third light, should remain lit throughout the night.

The council has said residents can ‘buy back’ lighting at £30 a year per light with five years paid up front but this has lead to accusations of the authority not caring about emissions as long as others foot the bill.

Various petitions have been started up including an on-line one on South Gloucestershire Council’s website which, as Downend Voice went to press, had 1,428 signatures.

Justine Sayers, 43, who lives in Emersons Green, has signed the online petition.

She said: “It’s pitch black – when the lights go out you literally can’t see your hand in front of your face. Like many people, my job is not nine to five and I can get called out 24/7. My drive isn’t in front of my house; it’s around the corner. I’ve got to hope there’s no-one hiding in the bushes as you wouldn’t be able to see anyone until they were upon you. It’s dangerous.”

Resident Danny Knight, 41, launched a petition in Staple Hill and which has around 400 signatures. He said: “If you hear anything going on outside your house and look out the window, you can’t see anything.

“I have a friend who works in a bar and he has had to change his route to walk home so he sticks to the main roads where the lights are on.

 “In principal it’s fine, the main issue is the time they’re going off. If they’re going off at 12 or coming up to 12, people are still out and about, in bars or walking around. “If the council aren’t going to keep the lights on, then at least reach a compromise and have the lights going off an hour later at 1am.”

Just a few weeks ago 39-year-old Martin Rainey was left battered and bloodied after a gang set upon him while he was walking with his partner Helen Wild at 12.20am along Court Road, Kingswood - one of the streets when lights are turned off at around 11.30pm.

Some residents told the couple they had CCTV footage but it was too dark to see anything on it.