COUNCILLORS are set to end the blackout in the second of six Aberdeenshire villages chosen three years ago for a controversial pilot scheme to keep residents in the dark throughout the winter months.
Aberdeenshire Council launched a pilot scheme in March, 2011, to switch off the street lights between midnight and 6am in six small villages – Auchenblae, Auchterless, Monymusk, Rora, Sandend and Sauchen – to lower costs and cut energy consumption.
Last year the lights were switched back on at Sandend at the request of local villagers. But councillors decided to continue the pilot scheme at the five other communities, despite the furious opposition of some local residents.
Now members of the Kincardine and Mearns area committee are poised to order the lights to be turned back on in Auchenblae, the only village in the Kincardine an Means area involved in the plot scheme, after 90 villagers voted in a community poll for the lights out to trial to end and only 28 for the scheme to continue.
William Munro, the council’s area manager, is recommending that councillors approve the termination of the trial of the switch off of street lighting in Auchenblae in a report to next week’s committee meeting.
He states in his report: “Six villages in Aberdeenshire had part night switch off of their street lighting introduced as part of a trial which commenced in March 2011. The opinions of residents in these villages were surveyed in 2011 and again in 2012. These surveys provided the best available information on the wishes of the majority of residents.
“In Sandend, the majority of respondents in the 2012 survey indicated that they would prefer to go back to all night burning, and so the part night switching was ended. In Auchenblae, Auchterless, Monymusk, Rora and Sauchen, the majority of respondents indicated that they would prefer to continue with part night switching and so no change was made.”
Mr Munro continues: “It was clear from the responses to the questionnaires that all the trial villages included residents who liked part night switching and residents who opposed it. Those who were positive about the trial highlighted issues such as energy saving, less disturbance to sleep and clear night skies. Those who were negative about the trial highlighted fear of crime and problems getting around in the dark.
“Recorded crimes and road traffic accidents during the switch off times were monitored during the Aberdeenshire trial and there was no evidence of any change. In Suffolk, where part night switch off has been
implemented on a much larger scale, an independent study has shown a nine per cent reduction in crime where part night switch off has been introduced compared to an 18 per cent increase over the same period where all night burning has been continued. The evidence would, therefore, suggest that whilst part night switch off may increase the perceived risk of crime, the incidence of crime may actually be reduced.”
Each area committee is now being asked to decide on the future of the scheme in the villages in their area. A new survey of Auchenblae residents has shown that the majority wish the lights out trial to end.
Mr Munro states: “The return to all night burning in Auchenblae will result in an increase of around £1,000 per year in the council’s expenditure on electricity for street lighting. This can be accommodated within the existing revenue budget.”