Leeds could be heading for partial blackout if plans to switch off some of the city’s 91,807 street lights at night are approved.
The city council is considering turning off the equivalent of almost one in every 10 street lamps between midnight and 5.30am - though it would be more in some areas because major routes would be unaffected.
The move is part of a drive to cut costs and reduce carbon emissions.
The total number of street lamps in the city has dropped from 94,000 since a private company took over their running as part of a PFI deal, but the council says all the street lights have been in constant use “during the hours of darkness”.
The part-time switch off plans, which are set to go out to consultation, have met with a mixed early response, with campaigners seeking assurances that public safety will be paramount.
A Leeds City Council spokesman confirmed the decision-making executive board have approved a ‘Part Night’ lighting policy.
He said the actual lights to be switched off had not been designated, however it is estimated that a partial switch-off could be installed at about 3,250 of the 27,000 lights along the city’s traffic routes.
Around 4,750 of the 64,000 lights in residential streets could be affected.
Tim McSharry, from the Access Committee for Leeds, which campaigns for disabled people, said the desire to save money was understandable, but warned that “the unplanned consequences could be enormous depending on which communities it is applied to”.
He said: “We don’t want a puddle effect.
“If you turn the lights off in one area that has low crime, it could have consequences and it could be targeted.”
“The level of people out on the streets at that time would be reduced,” he acknowledged.
“But the impact might be for people who have an early start at work.
“The feedback we have received is mainly concerns around making certain neighbourhoods more susceptible to crime.
“People, for whatever reason, may need to be out on the street. It could be because they are caring for disabled or older people.
“It’s not just a case of saying ‘use a torch’.”
A report last year found that the cost of providing street lighting in Leeds had more than doubled since a private company started running it.
It said that five years earlier, the city’s lighting system had cost £5.8m per year to run. That figure had soared to £14.4m by last year.
Other campaigners in the city have also expressed potential safety concerns.
Ben Fisher, Community Officer at Leeds University Union, said: “We’d be concerned about the impact on community safety, both for students and the wider communities they live in.
“LUU aims to help students feel safer where they live and study, and students already raise dim and badly lit streets as issues in their areas.
“I hope that this concern is considered as proposals are being drawn up for consultation.”
Lesley McLean, divisional manager for Victim Support West Yorkshire, said: “People’s perceptions of personal safety can be supported by having street lights and we recognise that switching these off may cause anxiety for some people as the impact of the fear of crime can be significant.
“I am sure that the council would consider all the public safety issues carefully before making a decision.”
Council bosses confirmed that if the plans do get the go-ahead, accident hotspots and areas with high crime would not be included.
Anti-social behaviour hotspots, areas with council and police-approved CCTV, areas with sheltered housing and other residences for vulnerable people and 24hr operational emergency services sites including hospitals would also be avoided.
Pedestrian crossings, subways, footpaths and alleyways where one end links to a street that is lit all night would also not be included.
Neither would roundabouts and other traffic calming measures.
A council spokesman said: “If the scheme is approved and part-night switches installed, the effects on crime etc will be monitored and the switching can be reversed or halted. In addition to the above, the council are continuing to explore new ways of saving money, including the use of LED lighting.”
Councillor Barry Anderson, the council’s shadow spokesman for both the environment and for safer and stronger communities, stressed there was no “one size fits all response” to the issue of street lighting, but said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the proposals.
“Saving money should not be the be-all and end all,” he added. “I am more in favour than against but am still to be totally convinced.
“I don’t want them to use the excuse of Government cuts as the basis for this.”
He said initial consultations with his own ward members in Adel and Wharfedale had shown safety concerns were more in built up areas, and areas where public transport drops people off in “dark streets”
But many people in rural areas “did not want street lights in the first place”.
“Quite large swathes of Bramhope don’t have it. They feel safe enough,” he said.