A blackout has begun in Harrogate and by the end of next week more than half of the town’s street lights will be switched off overnight.
The radical plan will see 4,800 street lights, about 58 per cent of the total number in the town, turned off between midnight and 5am.
The blackout looks set to save North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) a substantial sum, but while the council argues it has been “rigorously” risk-assessed, others fear the darkened streets will prove to be unsafe.
“This must be the most foolhardy way to save money imaginable,” said one letter-writer in response to the plans.
“Muggers and thieves must be rubbing their hands together in delight, especially in known crime areas.”
The scheme will see more than half of Harrogate’s street lights switched off for five hours a night.
The plan will cut carbon emissions and save NYCC £400,000 a year, though it does have a start-up cost.
Each light must be fitted with a £12 sensor; around 3,500 have already been converted, with the remaining 1,300 to be changed by the end of the month.
By 2014, the measures will be introduced across the wider Harrogate borough.
The controversial move to switch off streetlights was approved by the county council’s executive in July last year.
It’s the second major overhaul to street lights in the last few years. A scheme to replace 2,000 street lights in Harrogate and Knaresborough - at a cost of £1.6m - had been previously criticised as “frivolous”.
A spokesman for the county council said all areas had undergone a “rigorous” risk assessment before any decision to switch off street lights was taken.
“Whilst the primary purpose of road and street lighting is highway safety we acknowledge that fear of crime is an important consideration when assessing our proposals,” he said.
“The council has worked closely with the police and others to ensure that the proposals will not adversely impact on community safety.”
Lights would not be turned off near main routes, junctions, or accident blackspots, he said, adding that high-crime areas would still be well lit.
Other areas where street lights will be kept on are outside hospitals and sheltered housing, near traffic calming measures or in the busy town centre.
The debate has continued on Twitter, with some saying they feel “short-changed” by the county council cuts.
“What next from our friends at the top?,” asked one Tweeter called HarrogateWife. “Road tolls and standing time at traffic light taxes? We have reduced services too much!”
Another Tweeter suggested switching off alternate streetlights instead, while Rob Stanworth said: “No street lights and increasing taxi fares.
“Could this lead to more muggings of those that decide to walk home at night...?”
Not everyone is critical of the move. Rossett ward councillor Jim Clark said he had received no complaints at all, adding that many people may not have even noticed the change.
Richard Johnson, on Twitter, said he thought it was a good thing.
“It will be very good for those of us interested in astronomy,” he said. “The beauty of the night sky above Harrogate revealed at last.”
A review will be undertaken next year before the change is introduced to the wider borough in 2014.
To view a map of which streetlights are being turned off, visit the county council website.