The cost-saving initiative, which involves adjusting the brightness of street lights during certain hours, has been implemented in various regions, impacting both urban and rural areas. Wikimedia Commons

Croydon London Borough Council seeks to achieve annual savings of up to £1 million by adjusting the brightness of their lights.

While the move aims to address budget constraints, safety advocates warn that the dimming could pose increased risks, particularly for women navigating the streets at night.

The cost-saving initiative, which involves adjusting the brightness of street lights during certain hours, has been implemented in various regions, impacting both urban and rural areas.

Havering London Borough Council has indicated that it had to reduce the brightness of 4,000 lights along its main roads from midnight to 5am due to unavoidable circumstances.

In a similar cost-cutting initiative, Cornwall plans to turn off approximately 35,000 lights, which accounts for over half of its current supply, within the upcoming months.

The decision aligns with a broader effort to address financial constraints.

Havering acknowledged grappling with its most challenging budget to date, necessitated by substantial cuts amid a £32.5 million deficit, projected to escalate to £81.9 million over the next four years.

Proponents argue that reducing the illumination during less busy periods can contribute to significant energy and cost savings, supporting councils in their efforts to manage limited resources more efficiently.

However, safety groups are raising red flags, expressing apprehensions about the potential risks associated with dimmed streets, particularly for vulnerable individuals such as women walking alone at night.

Critics argue that reduced visibility could create an environment conducive to criminal activities and harassment, undermining public safety.

The concern over the impact on women's safety is rooted in the fact that women are statistically more likely to be victims of street harassment and assault, especially during the darker hours.

Critics also point to the potential impact on community cohesion and the public's trust in local governance.

If residents perceive the dimming of street lights as compromising their safety, it may erode confidence in the measures taken by councils, creating tension between the community and local authorities.

In response to the growing concerns, some councils have initiated public consultations to gather feedback on the impact of dimming street lights.

Engaging with residents and considering their perspectives can be crucial in striking a balance between financial prudence and maintaining a safe environment for all.

Our Streets Now, an advocacy group dedicated to eradicating the public sexual harassment of women and girls, asserted that the council was prioritising their safety as a secondary concern.

According to the group, research, member feedback and the experiences of women and girls nationwide indicate that inadequate or absent street lighting poses a safety risk for them.

The issue has prompted discussions about the implementation of smart lighting solutions that can dynamically adjust brightness based on factors such as foot traffic, time of day and public safety considerations.

While these technologies may offer a more adaptable and responsive approach, their implementation requires careful planning and investment.

In Croydon, a total of 23,500 street lights equipped with adjustable settings from a central control room are in operation.

A spokesperson from Croydon Council said: "The street lighting initiative commenced as a year-long trial in January 2022 and demonstrated its environmental and financial sustainability for the borough.

"Building on the success of the pilot, the variable lighting policy was officially adopted in March 2023, establishing it as a standard practice. The policy is designed to ensure adequate lighting levels throughout the hours of darkness in our bustling town centre and district centres, recognising the role of lighting in reducing the fear of crime."

They further added: "No specific inquiries or complaints related to the alterations in light levels were received during either the pilot study period or the subsequent months.

"Crime statistics provided by our Culture and Community Safety team indicated that the variable light level trial did not result in a direct increase in street crimes occurring during 'night-time' hours. Prioritising the combat against violence towards women and girls, the variable lighting policy allows for adjustments in light levels if deemed necessary."