Lancashire County Council has come under fire for continuing to illuminate the outside of County Hall while planning to turn street lights off across the area.
In an effort to save £500,000 over the next four years, the Labour group in charge of the authority is looking at a range of ways to reduce energy spending – but none suggests reviewing the use of spotlights on County Hall in Preston.
Council leader Jennifer Mein has defended the policy, saying the lights on the Fishergate building help welcome people to the city.
But motoring organisations claim the council has got its priorities wrong.
Coun Mein said: “County Hall is an iconic landmark building that is the first thing that many visitors to Preston see, whether they arrive by road or train.
“Lighting it costs less than £3 per night and, while we’re working on how to reduce this still further, it is a worthwhile investment for welcoming visitors to the city, quite apart from the practical reasons for lighting a building that is used for many public evening events.
“Much more significantly, the council will save £250,000 per year in energy costs in Preston alone, thanks to work to improve the infrastructure at County Hall and reduce the amount of office space we use elsewhere in the city centre.”
Coun Albert Atkinson, deputy leader of the council’s Tory group, said he was baffled by the need to illuminate the building.
“It’s hardly a tourism attraction, is it?” he said.
“I appreciate it may only be £3 a night, but 365 days a year is over £1,000 a year and I am sure it could be better used on things other than lighting buildings.”
He said it should perhaps be lit up on special occasions – and the approach of lighter nights in British Summer Time made it a nonsense.
Elaine Cotterell, Lancashire Unison branch secretary, said: “The council’s priorities need to be determined on helping the most vulnerable in society and protecting services for council tax payers.”
A budget report on street lighting states: “Options include further dimming on the network between 7pm-6am, all night and total switch off from midnight until 6am. It is estimated that between 34 and 44 per cent of street lights could be affected.”
Full details have not been configured, but a senior County Hall spokesman said a working group has been set up to look into the proposals.
He said: “There will be a degree of investment needed to ensure we have the right technology in the right lights to ensure that we can dim/switch them off at the right times and in the right places.”
According to research from The AA, there has been a reduction in fatal accidents on Britain’s roads between 2007 and 2012, but the rate of reduction lowers when lights are switched off at night.
In 30mph zones, fatal accidents have reduced by 23.6 per cent where roads are lit, but the reduction is only 19 per cent when they are not.
Luke Bosdet, from the AA, said the organisation did not have a problem with dimming lights, but it was against turning lights off completely.
He said: “Switching off street lights might make savings, but it is paid for with lives.
“More than one in 10 people who work leave the house between midnight and 5am, so this assumption by councils that switching off the lights until that time isn’t going to affect anybody is plain wrong.”
He added: “Another point is that very often where lights are switched off it’s not done with the consent of residents.
“We would argue that if the residents say no, then the council should listen to them.
“It’s always been fairly typically said of councils, that if they are looking to cut the electricity bill, that they should start by looking at council buildings.”
Currently, LCC uses four 400-watt floodlights and a 1050-watt halogen spotlight to light the front of County Hall.
“They are controlled by a photo cell that turns them on automatically during the hours of darkness.
In winter, this can last around 15 hours and, in the summer, around eight hours.
Additional ‘amenity’ street lighting in Pitt Street is provided by Preston Council.
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “We have absolute sympathy for councils facing increasing obligations and shrinking budgets, but street lights are very much about safety especially that of pedestrians and cyclists.
“Council taxpayers should be shown the analysis which demonstrates that any financial savings outweigh the potential human costs of road accidents. A sign that the council is serious about cutting energy bills might come from those in County Hall doing some navel gazing and asking whether more of their own lights could be switched off.”
Lancashire County Council is also responsible for a short length of motorway in East Lancashire; M65 from junction 10 at Burnley to junction 14 at Colne, where the lights are turned off between midnight and 5am.
The council insists it causes “no problems” and points out that 70 per cent of the UK’s strategic road network, which includes motorways and major A-roads, is unlit.