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Leaked police report shows major concerns over Exeter street lights switch-off plan

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: September 06, 2013

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Councillors claim they were left in the dark about the existence of a report from police which raises major concerns over plans to switch off street lights in the city overnight.

The report is believed to date from 2010, but until now has not been distributed.

Councillor Richard Westlake , Labour Leader on the County Council, said: “Why did the county council not send this report to members when it was first received in 2010, and why has no reference been made to it in the current consultation process, that included a joint meeting with all of Exeter's Councillors?

“Elected members should have been given the opportunity to assess for themselves the content of the report, including the concerns raised by the police about the possible impact of part-night street lighting on crime and on policing in the city.”

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He added: “It's just not good enough for the county council to now state that all the issues raised by the report have been met.

“It’s clear that Exeter members need a proper meeting with senior police officers so that they can discuss all these issues face to face to make sure that the safety and welfare of local residents will not be compromised by these switch off proposals , that are being driven by Tory cutbacks. "

Councillor Andy Hannan, who represents Priory and St Leonards said the report was given to him by a senior police officer.

He said: “I was sent a copy of the police report on the proposals to switch off most of Exeter's street lights last month by the new police inspector for Exeter , and was given permission by him to send it to Exeter councillors, which I did.

“However I want to know why this important report was withheld from Exeter's City and County Councillors. It also raises huge questions about the nature of the democratic process at the County Council.

“It’s also vital that we have a proper dialogue with local businesses that are involved in Exeter's multi million pound night time economy about the content of this report , as these proposals could cut jobs and investment. "

In the report which can be seen in full below police express their fear that “The ability of the Police to respond to offences, conduct area searches, identify victims, offenders and crime scenes will be hindered if there is no street lighting to assist.”

Map of lights which will remain on (zoom in to see road names):

Red lines: Walking routes to remain lit all night

Purple lines: The main routes through the city to remain lit

Yellow zone: The area of the city to remain lit.

View Map of lights switch of plan in a larger map

Read the full police report:

Street Lighting – Exeter

Police Response to Devon County Council Plans to Reduce Street Lighting in Exeter

Devon County Council is entering the second year of a three to five year programme to introduce part night lighting in residential areas across Devon. Main A and B roads will remain lit and the city centre areas will be subject to more detailed consideration. There are exception criteria for the County Councils part-night lighting policy to which the police will respond.

Extensive research into crime and the effects of lighting on the fear of crime is not possible due to the limited amount of time given to respond to the proposals, however, it has been possible to look at peak times for offending throughout the city area.

All figures are historic and have been gathered when street lights have been switched on as there has not been a time when Exeter has experienced part night lighting. It is therefore not possible to say if offences will increase or decrease after a proposed switch off of street lights.

Devon and Cornwall Area

It is understood that Exeter will be the first city to undergo part night lighting so there is no evidence from other areas to show that crime increases or decreases when lights are switched off.

The Police have already been involved in the part night lighting policy in Cornwall and have worked with the council to reach an agreement where the police can request the street lights are turned back on in the event of an incident. The following link has further information:

http://www.thisiswesternmorningnews.co.uk/news/Police-powers-control-street-lights/article-1422557-detail/article.html

Observations

The ability of the Police to respond to offences, conduct area searches, identify victims, offenders and crime scenes will be hindered if there is no street lighting to assist.

The use of natural and informal surveillance is a recognised and approved crime reduction principle, relying on members of the public to notice offences and report what they have seen to the authorities. Poor street lighting may in fact limit this natural surveillance resulting in inaccurate identification. Removing street lighting all together will virtually cease all natural surveillance during the hours of darkness where private light sources are not available.

An analysis of research carried out into the effects of lighting on crime are varied with some reporting reductions in crime when lighting is reduced and others the exact opposite. An aspect which is more difficult to analyse is the effect on the fear of crime which can be as damaging to a person’s quality of life as crime itself. A reduction in street lighting may result in more residents using their vehicles as they are too afraid to use unlit streets ultimately resulting in an increase in CO2 emissions.

Home Office Research

Home Office Research Study 251 (August 2002):

“There are two main theories of why improved street lighting may cause a reduction in crime. The first suggests that improved lighting leads to increased surveillance of potential offenders (both by improving visibility and by increasing the number of people on the street) and hence to the deterrence of potential offenders.

The second suggests that improved lighting signals increased community investment in the area and that the area is improving, leading to increased community pride, community cohesiveness and informal social control. The first theory predicts decreases in crime especially during the hours of darkness, while the second theory predicts decreases in crime during both day time and night time.

The report concluded that improved street lighting should be included as one element of a situational crime reduction programme. It is an inclusive intervention benefiting the whole of a neighbourhood and leads to an increase in perceived public safety. Improved street lighting is associated with greater use of public space and neighbourhood streets by law abiding citizens. Especially if well targeted to a high crime area, improved street lighting can be a feasible, inexpensive and effective method of reducing crime.”

Licensed Premises

A breakdown of licensing times shows that the top ten busiest licensed premises in Exeter have licensing times outside of the planned switch off times. These licensing times have been issued by Exeter City Council.

Concern for the safety of pub and club users is paramount especially as many will be leaving the premises intoxicated making them more vulnerable. The peak times for robbery, violence and sexual assault occur during the early hours of the morning.

The following was noted:

• On Friday and Saturday nights the majority of the licensed premises assessed can remain open until 0230 with over half (6) having a license until after 0300 hours.

• This would suggest that switching the lights off at 0030 will be too early especially at the weekend when the nightlife in the city centre is generally busier. Although lights will be left on within the city centre there is concern for those people travelling home, especially those who choose to walk.

• For the duration of the whole week over half the premises studied have licenses until after 0100.

It is proposed that any lighting switch off is not considered prior to 0200 hours in the residential streets closest to the city centre and in particular those areas with higher student numbers.

The switching off of street lamps outside of the city centre will have a detrimental effect on the perceived safety of vulnerable groups of people walking home from a night out. It is feared that Devon County Council’s plans will put increasingly high numbers of people at risk.

Walk Home Routes

The main crime types of concern are those associated with persons walking home from the licensed premises in the city centre to their homes on the outskirts of the city; namely sexual offences, violence and robbery. Crime data shows that the top wards affected are, City Centre and St Davids, Newtown and St Leonards, Priory, St James and Heavitree.

Crime data outside of the city centre beat code is relatively even making it difficult to extract beat locations with an increased crime problem. It is therefore suggested that all beat locations will have recognised walk-home routes leading to and from the city centre locations and main transport hubs.

These walk home routes should be adopted as part of a transport plan by Devon County Council. In addition to being lit through the hours of darkness they should also be maintained to incorporate a series of crime reduction measures to reduce crime occurring. Consultation with the Police Architectural and Crime Prevention Officers should be sought.

Devon County Council’s transport plan shows a commitment to increasing the use of walking as an alternative mode of transport. It is possible that the increase in fear of crime will prevent persons from walking and car usage will increase. This will be especially relevant during the hours of darkness for commuters, not just the late night economy.

Walking -

Over 18% of people walk to work in Exeter which is considerably higher than the

national average of just over 10%. Over 50% of children walk to school. It is

important to ensure that the numbers are not only maintained but also increased at

the expense of car passengers and in this respect pedestrian safety on the highway

and encouragement through school and employer travel plans are crucial.

Population and Crime

The following population figures have been gathered from the census information, with crime information collected from the Devon and Cornwall Police My Neighbourhood section on the website as well as the research carried out into crime patterns over the past three years.

The ward of St Thomas and Cowick has the highest population amongst the Exeter sectors (11 900). Underage drinking continues to be a problem within the St Thomas Pleasure Ground and Cowick Barton Playing fields and a Section 30 Dispersal Order is in place to help control this problem. Crime in the area is average.

Heavitree and Polsloe (11 600) also have a high population and suffers with above average vehicle crime. Newtown and St Leonards (9 700) share an above average vehicle crime problem with Heavitree. This could be due to the style of home in these locations where off road or garage parking is limited with the majority of vehicles being parked on the streets. This leaves them more vulnerable to theft and criminal damage especially if cars are parked on roads used as routes home from the city centre.

Duryard and Pennsylvania (10 300) have low levels of crime with a high population. Pennsylvania Road is considered a key route home from the city centre for a large number of students.

Priory with an approximate population of 9 400 has a higher risk of burglary. This is the highest of all the wards. The policing area of Wonford is currently subject of a Section 30 Dispersal Order to help reduce incidents of anti social behaviour until 16 January 2011. Problems seem to escalate in the area around Halloween and Bonfire Night and retaining the street lighting during this period would be of great assistance to the police and other organisations in their attempts to reduce anti social behaviour thereby improving the quality of life for local residents.

Crime in Exwick (9 000), Alphington (8 500), Whipton Barton (7 900), Pinhoe (6 100), Mincinglake (5 700), Countess Wear and Topsham (5 000) is average.

St James ward has a large student population and issues surrounding student behaviour have been raised through the PACT (Partners and Communities Together) meetings by local residents. Late night anti social behaviour is of concern in Well Street, Oxford Road, St James Road, South View Terrace and Powderham Crescent where criminal damage and noise have been reported between the hours of 2200-0500. In addition to this the issue of street drinkers has been raised as a cause for concern and an increase in the fear of crime in York Road, Well Street and Queens Crescent. These areas may be prime candidates to retain current street lighting levels due to reported problems.

St Loyes and St Davids have similar population levels (4 800). While crime is average in St Loyes there is an above average occurrence of vehicle crime. This issue has been raised as a PACT priority across Broadfields with problems surrounding overnight vehicle crime and burglary. Anti social behaviour, rowdiness and drunken behaviour have been raised as a problem in Woodwater Lane as this is used as a through road overnight. St Davids experiences above average levels of burglary and anti social behaviour.

Although it is difficult to prove that a reduction in lighting will increase crime as the above problems have all occurred when street lighting has been left on throughout the night, it is perfectly understandable in areas where crime is a problem that the fear of crime is raised.

Marsh Barton and Sowton Industrial Estates

Commercial sections of the city should be made an exception to the part night lighting policy. Many of the businesses have invested time and money into security to protect their assets, relying on adequate lighting to increase surveillance, including capturing offenders on CCTV.

Marsh Barton has over 500 businesses ranging from vehicle showrooms to builders merchants, plant and tool hire to retail outlets. These types of business are desirable for burglars due to the value of the goods.

Acquisitive crime has been raised as a problem on Sowton Industrial Estate through the PACT process. Issues have included overnight thefts of diesel, metal and plant. Targeted operations have been conducted to reduce crime rates

Recommendations

• Walk home routes from the city centre are identified, promoted and left lit. These should be identified in conjunction with the local policing teams and Exeter University and promoted by Devon County Council.

• Areas of high crime where police operations and activities are undertaken to reduce crime should remain lit and advice sought from the local policing team. This would include those areas subject to Section 30 Dispersal Orders.

• Street lighting around the city centre to remain on until 0200 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

• Any areas where fear of crime is highlighted through the PACT process should be left lit.

• Clearer information is required regarding how the lights are going to be switched off – will they simply go out, leaving people in pools of darkness or will there be a gradual dimming? The creation of pools of light followed by dark shadows is contrary to all crime reduction advice. The evenness of light distribution is as important as the level of illumination (Secured by Design New Homes 2010).

• Policy to be agreed where the street lights can be turned on in the event of a serious incident.

• If evidence suggests that crime increases following the implementation of the part night lighting, street lighting is returned.

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4 comments

  • deejaytee  |  September 07 2013, 6:59PM

    Police Response: All figures are historic and have been gathered when street lights have been switched on as there has not been a time when Exeter has experienced part night lighting. It is therefore not possible to say if offences will increase or decrease after a proposed switch off of street lights. Rubbish! They used to be turned off when I was a nipper growing up in Heavitree in the 50's and 60's. I've said it before, and still do; turn them off. And while we're at it, get the lights off on the M5 too. Cars have headlights!

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  • JorgeBen  |  September 07 2013, 6:00PM

    Thank you Keith, I obviously overlooked that fact. However on that specific point, I do have to say that while it probably wouldn't affect my mother personally, I do know of some people who are forced to take dogs out very late at night to relieve themselves at specific times of the year - namely during the firework season. Unfortunately the terror pets suffer during this period is not taken seriously by the authorities and those without pets, but it is a major issue for some pet owners. There are some dogs who are so affected by the tremendous noise that they refuse to go outdoors until a considerable time after the noise of freworks has subsided. The absence of lighting will be a major problem for this group - particularly if they are female, or otherwise vunerable. As you correctly point out, it will also be a problem for those people making their way home late at night, especially those like my mother who have impaired night vision - a problem which is not restricted to the elderly. Being a rural city with lrelatively low levels of overnight light pollution, under certain conditions, such as a moonless night, pats of Exeter will get extremely dark in any wwidespread absence of street lighting. I had to walk along Exwick Road during a power cut a while ago and even I found it difficult to walk confidently or see very far in the near pitch black conditiond - in fact I stumbled over uneven sections of the pavement a few times. I suspect some vulnerable individuals, perhaps those impaired by alcohol, would have fallen in similar circumstances. I also found it extremely eerie and disconcerting - and I am a 6 foot two large man who can look after himself. How much more frightening would it be for a lone female in such circumstances? Rest assured that there will certainly be lone femaleswalking home late at night even if this insane switch-off is implemented. I accept that the number of individuals walking home late at night might be relatively few (although I suspect the number will not be inconsiderable on Friday and Saturday nights). However if just one person is the victim of crime, or suffers significant injury or worse directly as a result of this misguided policy, then in my opinion it is one person too many. I would question whether any amount of money would be worth this outcome, but the potential savings claimed in this instance certainly are not. Most cuts that could be implemented would affect only specific sections of the population. That is not to say that I would agree with such a policy, but hese proposed cuts will potentially effect every single one of us - rich or poor, male or female, able-bodied or disabled, vulnerable or otherwise. I am aware that we live in an era where the neo-liberal idea that taxation is anthema and that public spending is the font of all evil holds sway, but surely this is one case where an increase in local taxation would be preferable to the kind of draconian action that is proposed in this case? I'm not sure whether central government allows local authorities such freedom of action - but whether or not this specific remedy is possible there surely must be a better way.

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  • KeithEX4  |  September 06 2013, 2:22PM

    JorgeBen I think if you check the article they are proposing to switch the lights of at 0030 so unless your mother has difficultly sleeping or needs to walk the dog after spending the night out clubbing she will be safely tucked up in bed by then. I do think that is too early even though a relatively small number of people will be walking home after that time 0200 would seem more sensible.

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  • JorgeBen  |  September 06 2013, 1:21AM

    Has the councli considered the risks to vunerable people who have use unlit areas - for example those who need to walk dogs on winter evenings in parks and the like? My pensioner mother finds it difficult to see in the dark after a cataract operation and so will suffer enough as it is if there is no street lighting. However the plan is even more worrying for her considering that she has to walkiher dog in Exwick playing fields in the dark on winter evenings. At the moment the lit paths are a boon - I know she is very concerned about the situation if this insane switch-off plan goes ahead.

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