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“Keeping everybody safe is vitally important!” But who is responsible for Lincoln’s street lighting?

In a twist of bureaucratic finger-pointing, an MP’s campaign for improved street lighting has sparked a debate over responsibility between local councils.

Lincoln MP Karl McCartney’s plea, driven by concerns from students and residents fearful of walking home in the dark, has led to a request to Lincolnshire County Council for enhanced overnight lighting — alternative (every other) street lights after midnight, instead of total darkness.

However, the responsibility for this illumination upgrade has become a contentious issue, with the city council asserting it’s a county matter, while the county council suggests the city has the power to make the change.

Who is responsible for Lincoln's street lighting?
Who is responsible for Lincoln's street lighting?

The question now looms: who will step up to light the streets of Lincoln?

Mr McCartney (Conservative) said: “Keeping everybody safe in our city centre is vitally important but it is crucial that they also feel safe. Having street lights turned off in our city centre will certainly not do that.

“That is why the county council needs to change its stance and also why Lincolnshire Police needs to be demanding they do so. I fully support the local student unions in their requests for change.

“Keeping women and girls (alongside men and boys) safe at night is a key government priority – not only as tackling violence against women and girls was added to the revised Strategic Policing Requirement as a national priority, but it is also aligned to the Safer Streets initiative.

“This request therefore should be seen as part of delivering on these overarching commitments.”

The University of Lincoln said it wants all students to feel safe and comfortable when walking home at night, and would support anything which may contribute towards this.

The Students’ Union (SU) at the University of Lincoln has said it is a cause they have been “championing” for many years, and that it’s an issue “at the forefront” of the student experience.

A spokesperson for the SU said: “This year we saw over 500 students attend our Reclaim the Night event, so we know that the issue of nighttime safety is very much at the forefront of student’s minds.

“Increased street lighting in Lincoln will be welcomed by students, particularly as they are often walking home after study sessions, work shifts and nights out. However, we want to continue to work with local authorities and organisations on even more improvements and initiatives.”

Who is responsible — County Council or City Council?

Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) adopted a part-night lighting scheme for street lights in 2016, with most of Lincolnshire’s street lights turned off between 12am and 6am as a cost-saving measure that also greatly reduces electricity use.

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The council’s carbon reports reveal an 82% decrease in emissions from street light usage since the policy was brought into action, saving around £10 million last year as a result.

Lincolnshire County Council say this cost-saving measure has allowed for the spare money to go towards plugging a 25% cut to the roads budget, implemented by central government.

Concerns of resident safety have been consistently shared, but Lincolnshire Police told councillors in 2018, as part of a review into the part-night lighting introduction, that there was “no direct demonstrable link” between part-night lighting and actual changes in crime levels.

There are exceptions to the part-night lighting rules, particularly in populated town and city centres, as well as spaces with high crime rates.

A 2018 Scrutiny Review looking into the impact of part-night lighting presented opportunities for parish, district, town and city councils to pay for street light conversion where they feel it might be needed.

LCC say that since this process was introduced in 2019, just four of the 68,900 street lights operated by the county council have been converted. Of this 68,900, 46,000 street lights are part-night.

Cllr Richard Davies, Executive member for Highways said he was “at a loss” as to why Lincolnshire County Council had been “brought into this debate” at all.

“Irrespective of their powers, there is no statutory responsibility for any local authority – whether the highway authority or not – to provide street lighting,” he said.

“The main exception is when a highway authority installs traffic calming features and the like, when there is an implied expectation that these features shall be lit. This is why the presence of traffic calming is included in our list of exemptions from part night lighting.

“What seems to be convenient for commenters to ignore is that there are already levers in place for a lighting change – and these have been clear for a long time.

“Lincolnshire County Council has a member-approved policy by which local town, parish, district and city councils can pay for lights in their area to be converted to all-night operation. This has been widely available on our website for years.

“Alternate lighting is an interesting idea, but doing this creates pockets of dark where surely the matter of fear, or perceived fear, is exacerbated further.

“Alternate lighting is also an issue for drivers and pedestrians who can find it very difficult to keep adjusting their eyes as they go from light to dark, repeatedly.

“As it currently stands, we do not have any plans to change what we’re doing – but as I’ve explained, there are other routes available to other agencies should they feel that what we’re doing isn’t enough.”

City of Lincoln Council, however, maintained that issues around street lights are a matter for the county council.

A spokesperson for City of Lincoln Council said in a brief statement: “Street-lighting in Lincoln is a highways function.”

Amidst this bureaucratic back-and-forth, the residents of Lincoln await a resolution to brighten their nocturnal journeys, with the question of responsibility still hanging in the air.

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