Eastleigh break-in victims launch petition after Hampshire's green policies leave them in the dark.
Residents who say they have been left scared and angry by a series of burglaries in Central Eastleigh have started an online petition asking Hampshire County Council to ‘put our street lights back on.’
Since April last year, the street lights in the town’s main residential area are switched off from between 1 am to 4 am as part of a county-wide measure to save costs and reduce the negative environmental impacts of civic lighting but the lamps that illuminate the town’s warren of Victorian alleyways are also turned off at the same time, rendering the CCTV cameras trained on them useless and providing opportunistic thieves access and concealment during the hours of the county blackout.
As a result, residents say, break-ins have soared.
Their perceptions of rising crime are borne out by the latest Police Crime Map figures for the Eastleigh Central policing area which show that the number of burglaries in the last quarter doubled year on year. Between October to December 2019 there were 82 burglaries compared to 42 burglaries during the same period in 2018.
Desborough Road resident Marley Dalton started the petition after the home she shares with partner Ben Porter was broken into last month. The thieves gained access from the darkened rear alley and smashed a hole through a panel in the back door. Luckily, nothing of value was taken as the burglars were disturbed by the couple’s pet Staffy.
Dalton said she was surprised when the investigating Police Officer told her that although CCTV cameras are trained on the alley, nothing could be seen because after the lights go out it is “pitch black.”
The couple soon discovered the homes of other neighbours had also been targeted by criminals. Recently Postal worker Simon Merritt had a bicycle worth £500 stolen and a few weeks later discovered another burglar in his house who fled before anything could be taken. Mr Merritt said one of his neighbours had their car keys snatched by an intruder who then stole the vehicle for a joy ride before abandoning it in Bishopstoke.
The crusading Desborough residents say they hope their campaign will lead to the lights in the alleyways being left on at night, or else replaced by low level LED lights with CCTV coverage. They are also critical of the decision by Hampshire Constabulary to shut the Police Station on Leigh Road and relocate operations to the Shakespeare Industrial Estate at Boyatt Wood saying the abandoned boarded-up building and lack of night-time street lighting contribute to a ‘broken window’ effect that sends out the wrong signals about Eastleigh to would be criminals.
Explaining the reasons for imposing the night-time lighting controls Councillor Rob Humby, HCC Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Economy, Transport and Environment said in a statement:
“The County Council took the decision to switch off street lights between 1am and 4am in Hampshire’s residential areas from April 2019. This results in both carbon emission reductions and financial savings needed due to funding pressures and growing demand for council services, particularly in social care for vulnerable children and adults.
The changes in 2019 followed a public consultation and took into account academic research and evidence from other authorities.”
Eastleigh News has discovered resources on The National College of Policing website that link to a number of research papers which conclude that street lighting and CCTV cameras are highly effective in deterring burglaries and vehicle crime.
But Cllr Humby also indicated the County Council might be flexible in certain circumstances:
“While we have received no contact from Hampshire Police or from Eastleigh Borough Council relating to CCTV or about street lighting in this location, I can assure residents that we continue to work closely with the Police and will actively review any arrangements in areas where they express concern.”
Meanwhile residents are still coming to terms with the emotional consequences of having strangers violate their home.
Marley Dalton said that the experience had left her feeling scared:
“I feel completely unsafe in my own home to the point that I’m losing sleep. I look at people down the road and wonder ‘was it you?’ and I shouldn’t feel that, should I?”
Simon Merritt said he that being burgled had left him feeling angry, telling Eastleigh News:
“I’ve lived here since 1992 with just one incident now, since the lights have gone off, we’ve had two incidents in just a few weeks. Hopefully the petition might get some lighting back on – even if it’s just a couple of lights.”
The HCC Councillor for Eastleigh North Daniel Clarke told Eastleigh News that he would be happy to support the petition and that both he and his colleague Cllr Wayne Irish – who represents Eastleigh South – had voted against switching the lights out.
The petition to turn Eastleigh’s lights back on can be found here
Additional reporting by Charlie Bradshaw