A tale of two unitary authorities: illuminating Essex


The ongoing trails and tribulations of Essex County Council’s decision to turn off streetlights at night have caught my interest of late.

For the uninitiated, Essex decided to turn off streetlights between midnight and 5am, to save something in the region of £14m over 13 years — so slightly more than £1m per year. It has not, shall we say, been an uncontroversial decision.

It’s come into recent sharp focus with the decision of Harlow District Council to pay Essex to turn them back on.

Of course, things are slightly different in Southend.

Southend-on-Sea is a unitary authority, so not under the control of Essex County Council. In stark contrast, Southend made the decision that it wasn’t going to turn the lights off.

No, Southend went for something altogether bolder, and better thought out. Rather than turning lights off, money was found to invest in the upgrading of the borough’s streetlights to newer LED lights. They are still rolling out, but they are more energy efficient, cheaper to run, and over the long term will offer a substantial saving to the local taxpayer.

In the process not a light is being turned off in the wee hours of the morning. There is no sacrifice of safety or security.

This is, I’d say, the contrast between a long-termist attitude versus a short-termist attitude; a good use of taxpayer’s money, versus a short-sighted cut.

I’ll leave the reader to figure out which is which.


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