SPECIAL REPORT - Harrogate street lights blackout to be extended

NADV 1211158AM3 Street Lights. (1211158AM3)
NADV 1211158AM3 Street Lights. (1211158AM3)
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Thousands of streets are to be plunged into darkness overnight as a controversial blackout scheme looks set to be rolled out across the wider borough. RUBY KITCHEN reports:

A contentious money-saving scheme, which saw street lights in Harrogate and Knaresborough’s urban areas switched off between midnight and 5am, sparked outrage when it was introduced last September.

Fearful residents, calling for North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) to reconsider, said crime would skyrocket as muggers and thieves “rubbed their hands together with delight”.

But now, as new crime and complaint figures emerge to placate campaigners, the authority has confirmed it is to extend the scheme to towns, villages and cities across the district.

“It’s been a success,” said Coun Gareth Dadd, the county council’s executive member for highways and planning services.

“Crime hasn’t increased - it’s actually gone down. There hasn’t been the volume of concerns and comments we expected.

“On reflection, residents’ concerns, which were perfectly reasonable, have simply not come to fruition.”

CRIME FEARS

The scheme was first mooted in 2012, aiming to cut NYCC’s annual £1.7m lighting bill by £400,000 a year and carbon emissions by 3,200 tonnes.

By September last year, work had begun to turn off the lights. The radical move sparked a wave of opposition.

“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.”

There were calls to alternate those lights left on. To dim them instead of switching them off altogether.

One pensioner, the victim of a vicious attack in High Harrogate which left him with broken ribs, a perforated lung and lacerated scalp, said the “wartime blackout” had left him afraid of going into certain areas.

While better lighting might not have saved him from attack, he said, it would certainly have made him feel safer about being out on his own.

“It’s inky black on the street,” said the 66-year-old. “I know these streets like the back of my hand. But it’s like the blackout from the war. I don’t go into certain areas now.”

But, police have confirmed, the measure has not sparked a rise in crime.

“We haven’t seen any particular increase as a result of the street lighting,” said Supt Aubrey Smith, Safer Neighbourhood Commander for the Harrogate district.

“It’s more peoples’ perception of crime that has increased, but we certainly haven’t seen anything to support that.”

SCHEME TO BE EXTENDED

Overall in Harrogate and Knaresborough, 6,000 street light columns have now been fitted with a sensor, costing around £12.

There were teething problems - there still are. Up until last month, there were complaints about “confused” street lights turning off early or when it rains.

But, said Coun Dadd, despite these technical problems, the system has worked well.

“It’s win-win all round,” he said. “We have had one or two technical issues, where the cells didn’t adjust as quickly to British Summer Time as quickly as we would have liked.

“But it’s contributing to county-wide savings of £400,000.”

Since it was introduced in Harrogate and Knaresborough, the scheme has been rolled out in Scarborough.

Talks are underway to introduce it in Richmondshire and Hambleton, and Leeds City Council is considering the switch.

Now, Coun Dadd has confirmed, it is to be extended across the wider Harrogate Borough, from Ripon to Nidderdale, Spofforth, Arkendale and in towns and villages in between.

The county council is to start work with local parish and town councils in the next financial year, asking for feedback and local input.

“We will be working with the local community and council to identify anything we may have missed,” said Coun Dadd.

“There’s huge swathes of North Yorkshire in rural locations. But the concerns, by and large, will be similar to those in urban Harrogate.

“We now have the evidence to show they are unfounded. That evidence speaks for itself.”

l Among the towns, villages and cities to be reviewed in coming months are Ripon, Tockwith, Spofforth, Kirkby Overblow, North Rigton, Killinghall, Ripley, Hampsthwaite, Summerbridge, Markington, Bishop Monkton, Boroughbridge, Minskip, Staveley, Green Hammerton, Dacre Banks, Pateley Bridge, Greenhow, Sawley, Kirkby Malzeard, North Stainley, Rainton, and Dishforth. The full list is at www.northyorks.gov.uk.

l What do you think? Write to the Editor at 1 Cardale Park, Harrogate HG3 1RZ, email ackrill.news@ypn.co.uk or on Twitter via @HarrogateHound.

THE FIGURES

Heated public debates, sparked by the initial proposals last September, saw calls for a radical rethink.

Fearful critics said crime figures would soar, the number of car crashes would skyrocket, and residents were afraid to leave their homes.

But a year on, new figures revealed by the Advertiser show NYCC received a total of 120 negative comments from Harrogate and Knaresborough.

“When we started down this road, we were concerned we would be inundated,” said Paul Gilmore, electrical engineering manager for NYCC. “But it didn’t happen.

“We changed the lighting and the crime statistics didn’t change. When people realised, their fear of crime dropped too.”

Across North Yorkshire, 688 online feedback forms, letters and emails have been received by the county council since the start of its ‘energy reduction scheme’.

Of these, 248 were negative, almost all relating to safety, the fear of crime or both.

From the Harrogate and Knaresborough area, there were 309 feedback forms completed. In total, 120 of these were negative.

“We’ve not had a single request from North Yorkshire Police to turn the lighting back on,” said Mr Gilmore.

“We’ve had no reports of crime increasing because of street lights being turned off. And we did make a commitment to go back and look at it again if we did.

“All we know is that in Harrogate, crime levels have gone down. The street lighting, we now know, has made no difference at all to crime levels.”