Three quarters of councils have turned off or dimmed streetlights to save money, prompting fears from Labour that community safety could be being jeopardised.
A local authority poll suggests 558,000 street lights are being switched off overnight - an eightfold increase on May 2010 – while 797,000 are being dimmed.
The survey found 50 of the 141 responding English councils were switching off some streetlights, with 56 rolling out dimming, 42 enacting both and 35 doing neither.
Surrey County Council reported that it was dimming 99% of its lights, while Essex said it had turned off 83%.
Labour’s shadow communities secretary, Hilary Benn, warned that ‘significant areas’ of the country were being ‘plunged into darkness as a result of David Cameron and Eric Pickles’ policies’.
‘Streetlights ensure that people are safe on our roads and feel safe walking home, especially at this time of the year when the nights have drawn in,’ Benn added.
He instead urged Conservative ministers ‘to to tell their shire councils to get their act together and do what forward-thinking authorities are already doing by investing in new technologies like LED lights to save money on electricity bills and keep residents safe.’
Communities secretary Eric Pickles told Conservatives in Essex that he ‘loves’ street lights being turned off because ‘it’s saving a phenomenal amount of money’, ‘it’s nice to see the night sky’ and it helps him get ‘a good night’s sleep’.
Motoring group The AA this month warned councils that accident rates in areas with turned off streetlights had improved less than in well-lit areas.