A CONTROVERSIAL decision to switch off street lights overnight has placed residents in 'unnecessary danger' and turned neighbourhoods into a 'paradise for criminals', according to a national worker's union.
GMB, which has more than 600,000 members in various industries across the UK, has lashed out at Essex County Council's part-night lighting scheme which plunges streets into darkness between midnight and 5am to cut costs and carbon emissions.
It claims that the authority has struck the wrong balance between saving cash and residents' safety by pushing ahead with the roll-out of the scheme across the county.
Michelle Bacon, GMB regional officer, said "For more than 100 years we have taken street lighting for granted.
"GMB has serious concerns that by switching off the lights to save money Essex County Council has put residents in unnecessary danger.
"How do people know if they are getting into a licensed taxi or cab if they cannot identify the details because there is a lack of street lighting?
"How will the councils respond to an increase in crime or will they simply blame the already overstretched police service?
"Lighting at night is also a critical element to CCTV operations to deter and enable action to be taken against criminals.
"It has risked turning residential areas like Basildon into a paradise for criminals and has left the most vulnerable in society scared witless."
Trialled in the Maldon and Uttlesford districts since 2007, the multi-million pound project – the biggest of its kind in the country – is designed to shave about 20 per cent off the council's £4.5 million annual energy bill.
By turning off street lights between midnight and 5am using a central management system at County Hall, at a cost of £6.6 million, the scheme will save an estimated £1 million each year once fully operational.
Since the end of last month it has been fully rolled out across the county, six months after the lights first went out in the Chelmsford district.
But Michael Guyll, an Essex representative for taxi drivers within GMB, believes that up to 90 per cent of his colleagues are also opposed to the scheme.
"It's so dark that as a taxi driver you find people speed more and that with so many potholes you can't spot them until the last minute, even street signs are very hard to see," said Michael, who has been driving cabs in the county for 15 years.
"There's so many people coming out the pubs and most of them try to stop a cab by jumping in front of them.
"I just think it's more of a gimmick, it ticks their boxes but the council wastes money on lots of its projects. It's not only safety, it's a confidence thing."