/ Home & Energy

Has your local council turned the lights out?

Man walking along a dimly lit road

So did you remember to turn your clocks back last weekend? The autumnal change will mean we’re feeling the dark even earlier, but could plans by your local council mean our lamp-lit streets are short-lived?

A report in The Telegraph this weekend explored how local councils are looking into either dimming, or turning out, street and road lights in a bid to save energy.

Around three quarters of the 134 councils who responded to The Telegraph’s survey had switched off or dimmed some lights or had plans to.

This is a challenging issue if you, like me, want to support initiatives to reduce our energy output but on the other hand, need to ensure our safety is not put at risk.

Walking home in the dark

I went through a stage of walking a longer route home because my local road was badly lit. On some occasions I would walk with a torch but was worried it might unnerve fellow pedestrians.

I was therefore delighted when I spotted my local council giving our local street lights a make-over. I assume they must have done something more significant than simply replacing the bulbs, as the entire lighting unit was replaced along the entire road.

I took the time to complete my local council’s online survey to provide feedback on the update – after whinging about my detour I thought I should acknowledge the work and say thanks.

Road accidents after dark

The report says 3,080 miles of motorways and trunk roads in England are now completely unlit and 47 miles of motorway now have no lights between midnight and 5am. The Highways Agency has today responded to the article to clarify that the total length of unlit motorways is fewer than 100 miles in total (98.4 miles).

The Telegraph asked the AA’s head of roads policy, Paul Watters, for his views:

‘We know that most accidents happen in the dark… it may save money in terms of energy but then you have to look at the cost in terms of security, safety and accidents, it may actually be more. We have even heard that some milkmen are having more trips and falls, so it has had some implications you might not think about.’

And the Highways Agency argues:

‘Evidence so far, from the first six sites where lighting was switched off between midnight and 5am, indicates that switching off the lights between midnight and 5am on these carefully selected sections of motorway hasn’t had an adverse impact on safety. Analysis also suggests no impact on traffic volumes or speed.’

Council cutbacks and street lights

I’m torn on this one really – I appreciate my local area being lit up for the safety of the community, but can see the appeal to councils if there are potential savings to be made.

Living in a block of flats, we all contribute towards our communal electricity bill for lighting outside. Funnily enough our communal electricity is more expensive than the cost of energy for our own flat, despite the fact the former is split five ways. Nevertheless, good lighting around the property is important to me, so it’s a cost I’m willing to pay.

So how do you balance energy conservation with safety? Would you be happy to see your local council dimming the lights or even turning them out completely? Are there other options councils should be looking into?


Where we live in Norfolk the County Council has been progressively adapting the street lights to switch off between midnight and 1 am for about five hours. In this mainly rural are there are no lights on most roads anyway. Small settlements usually only have one or two lights [if any] and these generally have not been affected. In the larger villages and market towns a sensible approach seems to heve been followed where the switch-off has concentrated on side roads but with lights left on at junctions, corners and the ends of cul-de-sacs. There has been extensive consultation and although there have been objections [which have sometimes been accommodated], and there are concerns about potential for misbehaviour and vandalism, there has been no major opposition to the change. Many people welcome the de-suburbanisation of the built-up areas and the return to the peaceful days when the streets were empty after dusk. In this public-spirited and socially-responsible corner of the country, a lot of people also have lanterns or floodlights outside their properties We already enjoy some of the clearest skies in England and seeing in the dark is not such a problem once you get used to it – in fact, even on a cloudy night like tonight, the full moon illuminates everything quite adequately. It’s a good idea to carry a torch but, as with car headlights, one should show respect to other people by reducing the beam if possible or dipping it more to the ground. Wearing something fluorescent is also recommended [plenty of horrific stuff in the shops right now ready for Hallowe’en!]. I have sympathy with the really early milkmen who are finding that many private drives and pathways into properties are very hazardous because of uneven paving, unmarked steps and poor maintenance – I predict a rash of accident insurance and compensation claims against homeowners. The lights should be back on by the time the paper-boys are about and the Royal Mail staff should be pretty safe with their 1.30 pm deliveries. Driving on unlit single-carriageway A and B roads is fairly tiring after dark if there is much other traffic; people will have to allow more time for their journeys, not drive for too long at a time, reduce their speed, and exercise much more caution. The worry is that some reckless people or show-offs will not.


Am I the only one thinking why can’t they use motion sensors on street lights (which get powered by stored solar electricity during the day). They and there neighbouring lights could them light up as when something bigger than a fox moves within the beams of the motion sensor. Hopefully that will save money by not being on all the time and give light when needed.


This is a good idea William. I have a feeling, though, that the kind of lamp fitted in street lights takes some time to reach full strength and does not take kindly to being switched on and off repetitively.


All they would need to do is leave the lights on for say 10-15 mins and adjust according to whatever data the smart motion sensor unit provides over a few months. I’m sure there must be better bulbs in existence than the ones you describe. FYI This is a work in progress idea 🙂

I’m sure Which? Convo subscribers could sort out 99% of the countries worries without much trouble. First the country, then the world Mwhaha. 🙂


The type of low energy lamps used in street lighting cannot be switched on and off for short periods. Some types are very difficult to switch-on again until they “cooled” down.
This is the downside of using very efficient lights.

I agree that for pedestrians low level lighting, maybe motion sensed, would be beneficial if focused on the pavement areas, but I suspect that this would involve a complete redesign of the lamp standards or an add-on. Maybe the cost of this would be more than the savings made by switching off the existing lamps in the first place.


Research has already been done into this, among others by people who fight against light pollution, and applied. You can balance energy conservation with safety not by simplistically switching off the lights completely (*) but rather by dimming them in the wee hours, and replacing old-fashioned energy-loving lighting that lights up the sky as well as the ground by energy-efficient lighting beaming in the right direction.

* This is unless lighting really is unnecessary, eg on some parts of motorways. In France for example some parts of motorways in the middle of the countryside simply aren’t lit, just like normal country roads, and this isn’t why there are more accidents in France than here.


With reference to our motorwarys, I think the D Telegraph was making heavy weather of this issue: rural motorways are almost entirely unlit except at a few major intersections. Most of us have to drive on rural dual-carriageway and single-carriageway roads with very little street lighting. Direction signs can only be seen with the use of headlamps. This is normal and there are very few serious collisions in rural areas attributable to highway design – intoxication, excess speed and incompetence [including drowsiness and distraction] are the main causes and will probably remain so. This change is far less suitable for urban and metropolitan areas so it is probably not going to happen there. During the Second World War, notwithstanding the low number of civilian motor vehicles and the restrictions on their use, the personal injury and fatality rate on the roads shot up in the blackout. I can’t believe town and city highway authorities will return to those conditions.


I’m glad they’re cutting down on universal lighting.