Should the streetlights be turned off in Hatfield at night?

In each issue of UniVerse, two of our writers go head to head on an issue. The opinions expressed here are their own and are not endorsed by Trident Media or Hertfordshire Students’ Union. If you’d like to have your say then message us on Facebook or Twitter @TridentMediaUK!

For: Turn them off. Embrace your dark side!

[Melissa Nadarajan | Contributing Writer]

Since 2012, Hatfield’s grey, damp streets have undergone a nightly plunge into darkness when, at the stroke of midnight, the town’s streetlights are switched off. The decision has left residents angry and fearing for their safety with dozens of petitions and campaigns launched in an attempt to have them reversed. Despite the backlash, the lights are still routinely snuffed out. Three years on, have we learnt to live with the changes?

The ultimate aim of the partial lighting scheme is to reduce financial and environmental costs as part of larger, nationwide budget changes. On their website, Hertfordshire County Council reports “significant financial savings over the coming years” of an estimated £1.3 million annually, which is not a figure to be sniffed at. The partial lighting scheme is also working towards reducing the county’s carbon footprint.

The streetlight switch-off doesn’t mean a complete blackout. Only 70 per cent of street lights across the county are switched off between midnight and 6am, leaving A-roads, town centres, roundabouts and pedestrian crossings still lit throughout the night. Orange ‘residential lighting’ is left on along larger public roads, otherwise smaller streets and lanes are left in the dark. Research suggests that this may not be such a terrible idea.  A survey conducted by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) reports that 50 per cent of respondents have their sleep disturbed by light spilling into their bedrooms at night, and that 68 per cent have fitted thicker curtains in their home as a result. This type of intrusive light pollution at night time, the CPRE claims, can disrupt the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone needed by the body to maintain its internal biological clock. Thanks to darker nights, Hatfield should be experiencing a better night’s sleep.

Hertfordshire is not alone in switching-off; counties nationwide are participating in the same or similar schemes. A total of 106 councils across the UK are turning off or dimming their lights, with some going as far as replacing their existing lights with LED alternatives which use less electricity, are cheaper to run and create less impact on the environment. However, it is not only CO₂ emissions from streetlights that environmentalists are worried about. Scientists have coined the phrase “Photopollution” to describe light pollution that specifically has a detrimental effect on animals. Artificial lighting reportedly affects the migration of birds and the hibernation and reproductive cycles of animals. Keeping the night time dark has benefits extending far beyond our own species.

Concerns have been raised by local residents who fear an increase in crime and accident rates. In response, the Hertfordshire Constabulary have a web page dedicated to reassuring the county’s inhabitants and businesses. Chief Constable Andy Bliss declares that the police have “seen no evidence that reduced street lighting results in crime increases.” Known problem crime areas are exempt from the partial lighting scheme at the request of the police and remain lit.

At present, Hertfordshire County Council refuse to consider any further complaints from residents concerning the matter, so eat your carrots and keep a torch handy, because it looks like the scheme is here to stay.

Image from WHTimes
Image from WHTimes

Against: Leave them on! 

[Shelby Loasby | News Sub Editor]

Ever walked home from The Forum Hertfordshire or a late night study session at the LRC in the pitch black? It’s not fun. The streetlights in Hatfield turn off around midnight and students are left walking home in the dark, worried and scared.

UniVerse surveyed 60 students on the fears and anxieties of walking around Hatfield at night. 50 students agreed that the lights should be kept on, whilst only 10 believed the lights should be turned off.

Students Laura Webster and Nattalak Ruchsirisopon explained that they use the torch setting on their phones on their way home, not only because they are scared, but so they can actually see where they are going. Ruchsirisopon also said that when she finished studying at College Lane LRC, there was no shuttle bus running so she waited until she saw someone she could trust and walked behind them for safety. Webster explained that she has to “walk through two subways on the way home and they aren’t always lit. It’s not great walking through dark tunnels on your own in the middle of the night.”

Student Cilem Temiz even drives to university and parks a few roads down, despite living nearby. She said: “It’s not because I’m lazy, rather because if I decide to go to the library after a lecture I won’t have to walk home alone in the pitch black!”

Tunde, another student at UH, also explained that he had to walk with his female housemates last year even if he wasn’t going out, so that they would feel safe.

“The council could compromise and could always put every other streetlight on,” he said. “Then the road is lit and better than pitch black.” Tunde continued to say that he knew a few people who had been robbed and beaten up on their walks home in the dark.

Not only is it a matter of safety against potential attacks, keeping the streetlights on could prevent car accidents. Student Sean Scurr explained that: “Your headlights don’t always help you see everything; if someone’s drunk after a night at the Forum and stumbles in front of a car out of the shadows, not much good will come from it.”

It is clear to see that students are genuinely worried and scared when the streetlights are turned off.  Some may argue that turning the lights off saves energy, but surely it is more important to save lives and to make a university town safer for students?

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Should the streetlights be turned off in Hatfield at night?

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Should the streetlights be turned off in Hatfield at night?