COUNCIL chiefs are refusing to tell residents which of their streets will be plunged into darkness after midnight as part of a money saving drive.
Poole and Dorset councils say they are acting on police advice in refusing to say which lampposts will be shut off.
Now Dorset’s police and crime commissioner has intervened, promising to monitor residents’ concerns.
Both Poole and Dorset councils are controversially planning to switch off some lights after midnight in a bid to save cash and “reduce the carbon footprint”.
The Daily Echo submitted a Freedom of Information request to Borough of Poole and was refused the information on the grounds that the “need to protect the location of these properties is greater than the public test of making this information available to you”.
Dorset County Council has also refused to reveal maps which could show “sensitive information” and says the information is exempt from Freedom of Information legislation. Both councils say they are acting on police advice.
Martyn Underhill, Dorset’s Police and Crime Commissioner, has waded into the debate, pledging to monitor public concern over Dorset’s lights.
“I can understand that the street lighting issue is a concern to some residents and I have spoken twice to Dorset County Council’s chief executive Debbie Ward about the issue,” said Mr Underhill. “It is important to realise that it isn’t technically a policing issue, but one that is the remit of the county council.”
However he said if it transpired road safety or personal safety was an issue, that was his remit.
“While I have received some letters from the public I have not received sufficient correspondence for me to intervene with the council,” he said, adding he had taken into account the council agreeing to turn lights back on after a police request.
He said he would be monitoring the issues over three months “to establish whether the safety of Dorset residents is affected by the street lights being turned off”.
In Poole, Creekmoor resident Gerry Bolland was so concerned over safety at the prospect of lights in Woodpecker Drive being extinguished, he and his neighbours lobbied Borough of Poole and were victorious – their lights will stay on.
Mr Bolland, a former Bournemouth Council parking enforcement manager, criticised the council for attempting to “have their cake and eat it”.
“Residents should be told in advance,” he said.
“If they are saying this doesn’t represent a risk and doesn’t impact on crime levels not having lights, what’s the reason for not telling the public?”
THE county council began turning off almost 4,100 lights after midnight in areas of West Moors, Corfe Mullen, Ferndown and West Parley in early December, where there are no significant road safety and crime concerns.
In Poole 251 roads are included in phase two of a trial and their street lights will begin to be converted in February.
“We are not prepared to divulge the road names of the streets involved,” said Julian McLaughlin, head of transportation service, Borough of Poole.
“Our discussions with the police confirmed that, although the likelihood of increased crime was low, it would be prudent to not publish the road names to reduce the potential for additional fear of crime.”
In Colehill, lights will stay on around traffic-calming chicanes after opposition. Lib Dem county councillor Janet Dover had described the plans as “unacceptable” and it has now been decided to leave lights on in Middlehill Road where road-narrowing traffic calming measures are in place.
Cllr Dover, who leads the Lib Dem group on Dorset County Council, told the Daily Echo: “We eventually had a very frank discussion and they said they would keep them lit after all. This is great news as there were real fears someone could get either seriously injured or worse.”
She said the traffic calming zone were “confusing enough in the daylight” and it would be “crazy to have them unlit”.
Martyn Underhill has asked people with views on street lighting to submit their comments to him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by calling 01202 223966 or by writing to Martyn Underhill, Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset, Force HQ, Winfrith, Dorset DT2 8DZ.
A Freedom of Information expert has denounced the secrecy over the switch-off as “absolute nonsense”.
The Borough of Poole has cited Section 31 of the Freedom of Information Act in refusing to release information about which streets will have their lights switched off.
Section 31 creates an exemption from the act if releasing information would prejudice the prevention or detection of crime. But David Scott, a media law trainer and consultant, said Poole’s stance was “nonsense”.
“The exemption under the act was never intended to cover such trivial things as this,” he said.
“The public have a right to know where the lights are going to be switched off. This is no more than an attempt to hide behind a piece of legislation.”