STREETLIGHTS have been switched back on in vandal-hit areas of Lymington and Pennington less than a year since Hampshire County Council promised that turning them off to save money would have no effect on crime.
Lamps in the neighbourhood around Meadowlands and Bays Road will stay on for two months throughout the night in a trial agreement between the police and HCC that will be reviewed at the end.
As reported in the A&T, residents say vandalism, theft from vehicles, and anti-social behaviour have got bad enough to provoke them into considering vigilante squads to combat the problem.
In common with residential areas across Hampshire, the streetlights there have been going off between 1am and 4am since April last year. They are also dimmed by 65% from 11.30am until 1am, and again from 4am to 5.30am.
The move is part of HCC’s county-wide efforts to save money and cut carbon as it seeks to reduce spending by £80m by 2021 in the face of shrinking funding from the government.
When the switch-offs were announced last year, a council spokesperson said evidence from other local authorities and academic research showed “no impact on incidences of crime or traffic accidents”.
But Cllr Jack Davies, who represents Pennington on New Forest District Council, agreed with residents that offending appeared to have intensified.
He said: “I believe that since the streetlights have been switched off crime has got worse in Pennington and other areas of Lymington.
“There needs to be a long-term approach to decisions taken by HCC when it comes to street lights and other services, because there seems to be a lot done with budgets in mind and not the impact on services.”
He welcomed the latest decision having written to local county councillor Michael White and HCC leader Cllr Keith Mans urging the lights to be kept on.
The switch-on was announced on Facebook by the town’s police team, which last week also highlighted increased patrols and curfew checks in the area. Names had also been “put forward” to the investigation into the crimes, it said.
A Hampshire police spokesperson said: “We are working in partnership with Hampshire County Council to reduce incidents of criminal damage and theft from motor vehicle in the town centre following a recent increase in crimes which have been occurring in the hours of darkness.
“Hampshire County Council has agreed that street lights will be kept on overnight for the next two months to help reduce the issue. This partnership approach to reducing crime in the town was introduced after we listened to residents’ concerns.”
As reported in the A&T, a 14-year-old boy was arrested last week on suspicion of theft from a motor vehicle. He has since been released on bail and the investigation is ongoing.
A spokesperson for Hampshire County Council would not say where the lights were being kept on.
She said: “We have responded positively to a request from the police in line with our part-night lighting policy to temporarily restore all night lighting in areas of Pennington while the police continue their investigation.”
Tony Stone, a former paratrooper, is one of those considering vigilante action. He told the A&T recently: “We feel we have absolutely no alternative. If the police won’t do anything to protect our property, we will have to do it ourselves.”
When the lights were switched off last year HCC said it would save £230,000 each year and reduce CO2 output by 720 tonnes. It also said the plan had been backed by two-thirds of more than 5,500 responses to a public consultation on the idea.
The policy does not cover some streetlights owned by parish and district councils, housing associations, Highways England or the Ministry of Defence.