Crime and community safety chiefs have criticised plans to plunge parts of Scarborough into darkness by turning off street lights in the town.
Councillors have also hit out at the proposals, fearing it would be like “going back to the war years” .
North Yorkshire County Council wants to switch off around half of the town’s street lights between midnight and 5am by the end of January in a bid to save cash and reduce energy.
But members of the Central Urban Area Committee fear the scheme could see crime and anti-social behaviour soar and leave residents fearing for their safety.
Speaking at last night’s meeting, Barry Graham, Scarborough Council’s crime reduction and anti-social behaviour co-ordinator, said: “The Safer Communities Partnership has some serious concerns about the implication of this strategy, particularly in the Castle, Woodlands and Northstead wards. To turn lights off in these wards would be totally unacceptable.”
Mr Graham said the nightime economy didn’t come alive until the early hours of the morning, with some of the most serious criminal offences linked to the town’s busy pub and club scene. He fears the move could provoke serious sexual assaults and see crime levels rise even further.
Barrie Mason, the county council’s assistant director for highways said no final decisions had been taken and the scheme was still in the consultation stage.
“There were more than 366 of 916 lights earmarked for switch-off in the Castle ward. As a result of an initial consultation there are now 166, which is a reduction of 18 per cent. The whole point of the initial work was to find out what we don’t know and we rely on our local partners to tell us this,” he said.
Mr Mason said a list of criteria had been used to draw up the initial plan for the town.
Lights would not be turned off near main routes, junctions, or accident blackspots, he said, adding that high-crime areas would still be well lit. They will also be kept on outside hospitals and sheltered housing, near traffic calming measures or in the busy town centre.
Leaflets have already started going out to households in affected areas as part of a rolling programme over the next few weeks. Residents will then have around one month to view and comment on the plans on the authority’s website, before the results are reported back to Scarborough Council and a final decision is made.
Scarborough Council’s leader, Tom Fox, called for assurances the lights could be switched back on immediately if any issues arose.
This was echoed by other members, who also raised concerns about the affect it would have on shift workers, who often returned home in the middle of the night.
Mr Mason said: “We would have an ongoing review. If anything very serious arises, we would react to that as quickly as we possibly could.”
The county council’s executive member for highways, Gareth Dadd, criticised members for not raising their concerns sooner.
He said: “They got a proper say when we went through the intitial process. They have jumped in at the eleventh hour once they started getting some grief from residents.”
He added that savings had to be made to meet Government targets and the only other alternative was to cut vital services, including elderly care.
“Some very clear choices need to be made. If anybody has any better ideas, I’m all ears,” he said.