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1st Jul, 2022

Councillor outraged at Warwickshire leader's suggestion streelighting concerns are a 'knee jerk reaction'

COUNCILLORS calling for more street-lighting after dark were warned not to ‘jump on the bandwagon’ ahead of May elections by Warwickshire chief Izzi Seccombe.

The tragic case of Sarah Everard, who was last seen walking to her South London home at night before her body was found by police, has sparked fears for people, particularly women, walking in the dark.

The introduction of LED and part-night lighting in 2013 means 65 per cent of lights switch off at midnight from Sunday to Thursday, and 1am on Friday and Saturday. The authority said the move has since cut electricity consumption by 60 per cent.

But following the Sarah Everard case, people are urging the council to put safety first.

A petition was launched by Warwickshire resident Chloe Fojtik who said she had been horrified by some of the accounts she’d heard from local women about their experiences walking alone at night. It has been signed by over 3,200 residents.

In the meantime, during a Warwickshire County Council meeting, Liberal Democrat councillor Kate Rolfe asked whether the authority would consider keeping some street lights on in ‘essential’ areas identified by the public.

County Council leader Izzi Seccombe said that while she empathised with fears of walking in the dark, the issue ‘seemed like a bandwagon to jump on’ and warned councillors not to make ‘knee jerk reactions’.

She said: “I’m a woman, we’ve all had anxieties in our time and we’re all extremely concerned what this means for safety on our streets but I want to keep an element of proportion.

“We absolutely need to manage the concerns and fears of our residents but what we don’t need to do is to inflate it and wave a flag and inflame that anxiety. Our streets are safe – this a very rare incident. The chances of being targeted in the streets are greater if you’re a man than a woman, times four. We have to keep proportion.

“Nor do I want us as responsible politicians to use this as material for election purposes, because it seems like a bandwagon to jump on. Because these are our residents who deserve the best of intentions.”

She added the decision to spend taxpayers’ money must not be made in lieu of something more important.

She continued: “I know exactly what it is like to hear those footsteps behind you and to feel a little anxious and to have your heart pumping, but the reality is it’s very rare. This case was at 9.30pm, it was in lit streets. It was tragic but extremely rare. My heartfelt feelings go out to her family.”

Coun Rolfe denied her request had been a ‘knee jerk reaction’ – to which Coun Seccombe apologised and said her words had been ‘inappropriate’.

The leader added: “What we can do we will do, but what we need to do is ensure our residents feel safe on the streets of Warwickshire. They are safe on the streets of Warwickshire but we need to help them feel secure, and we need to give them evidence, and that’s something we can do.”

Coun Rolfe told the Observer: “If I get elected in the forthcoming elections it will be because of the work I have done on behalf of the community. I have no need to jump on any bandwagon.”

Coun Seccombe has not responded to the Observer’s request for a comment.

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