Published: 00:01, 23 May 2014
People living in two Gravesend streets claim there has been a “dramatic” increase in crime in their neighbourhood since street lights were switched off.
More than 140 people living in Trosley Avenue and Woodfield Avenue have signed a petition protesting at KCC’s decision to plunge their roads into darkness.
One resident is even reported to be contemplating selling up, although there are added fears that the KCC Safe and Sensible initiative may actually devalue house prices.
The area is one of many across Gravesham and Dartford which have been switched off.
The aim is to reduce energy costs, carbon emissions and light pollution by turning off about 70,000 surplus lights – 60% of the county’s 120,000 lights – between midnight and 5.30am, or 1am and 6.30am during British Summer Time, on a trial basis for a year.
Public consultation was undertaken last summer via the KCC website, as well as radio and newspaper adverts, Twitter and leaflets distributed to district council offices and libraries.
Kent Police and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents were also involved.
KCC has stated that 75% of residents backed the decision, but Daryl Lucas, who lives in Woodfield Avenue, said the figures are not a true reflection of opinion as only 546 people responded.
He has calculated that, based on 75%, 410 residents supported the scheme and, compared to the county’s population of 1,480,200, that is just 0.03% in favour.
Mr Lucas, 48, said: “The figure being boldly boasted by KCC is quite clearly flawed and is most certainly not representative of the population of Kent.
“People whose street lights were not going to be affected or who don’t even have street lights were also able to take part in the consultation.
"Based on Gravesend’s population, that means just 0.74% would have backed the initiative.”
Mr Lucas, who works for an examinations board in London, first contacted KCC last month when he noticed the street lamps in his road were not lit and was concerned that there had been a power cut.
But, having spoken to his neighbours, he discovered numerous reports of crime, including, he said, at least 12 cars damaged, four vans broken into, intruders in back gardens, toys and sports equipment stolen, windows damaged and suspicious people going through bags of rubbish
Worried about what he described as this “dramatic” increase in crime in the area, Mr Lucas organised the petition.
He said; “The whole thing became apparent as to the amount of damage that had been done, people taking things from back gardens and even going through rubbish.
“Some neighbours were aware of the lights being switched off and had already contacted the council to express their concern.
“It’s called Safe and sensible but it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. It’s natural when you hear a noise outside to have a look. But now it’s pitch black and you can’t see anything.”
Mr Lucas said that after one particular spate of crime, several police officers visited homes, advising residents of the need for extra vigilance and locking windows and doors securely.
In an email to Mr Lucas, KCC stated it does not have a statutory duty to provide street lighting and the initiative would create “significant” cost reductions which would “safeguard other front line services”.
An engineer who had thousands of pounds worth of tools stolen from his work van just weeks after the lights were switched off in his road has been targeted for a second time.
Would-be thieves broke into the Ford Transit Connect outside Jace Burr's home in Tennyson Walk, Northfleet, overnight between May 12 and 13, less than a month after he had £5,000 worth of power tools and work-related equipment taken.
This time, a phone charger was the only item stolen as the 42-year-old had removed anything of value the previous evening.
The father-of-four said: “It is just so annoying. Someone has sat down and just thought people go to work 9am to 5pm and then go home.
“But they don’t. People like me get called out at 2am, 3am. What if we are to bump into the people doing this?
“And if they are turning the street lights off where are the police patrolling the streets?”
Mr Burr’s van was first broken into on Easter Sunday. At the time he told the Messenger that the road was “pretty much pitch black” since the council turned the lights off and that his vehicles, including his wife Amy’s car, had never been targeted before.
But Mr Lucas believes street lighting is as important as providing the services of Kent Police.
He said: “What really annoyed me was that having carried out the consultation exercise they said 75% (consulted) supported the scheme. If they had come to Woodfield Avenue we would have all said no.”
Mr Lucas also filed a formal letter of complaint but has yet to receive a response.
He added: “KCC may well have made a policy decision to reduce energy through changes to street lighting, but when this decision means the quality of life for residents is adversely affected then it is also KCC’s responsibility to do something to rectify the problem they created.
“This matter has significantly angered the residents of Woodfield Avenue and Trosley Avenue, who are totally opposed to KCC’s approach.”
Every morning at 10am we play you an hour of tunes from the 90s. We call it, #WeLoveThe90s.
Play 'Say It' with Garry and Laura on kmfm Breakfast and you could win £1,000!
Wake up to kmfm Breakfast with Garry and Laura - it's Kent's alarm call.