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Not a very bright idea

PUBLISHED: 09:07 14 January 2010 | UPDATED: 07:26 02 July 2010

Stacia Briggs

This plan to switch off street lights after midnight is a bit short-sighted, isn't it? (Or will that be us as we stumble back from the pub in pitch darkness trying to avoid muggers?)

Having spent the past few weeks staring intently at the pavement in order not to measure my length in the ice, I've come to realise that I'm quite wedded to the whole concept of being able to see where I'm going.

Not a very bright idea

This plan to switch off street lights after midnight is a bit short-sighted, isn't it? (Or will that be us as we stumble back from the pub in pitch darkness trying to avoid muggers?)

Having spent the past few weeks staring intently at the pavement in order not to measure my length in the ice, I've come to realise that I'm quite wedded to the whole concept of being able to see where I'm going.

Norfolk County Council wants to switch off up to 7,800 lights in Norwich between midnight and 5am as part of a wider scheme which could see 27,000 across Norfolk blacked out.

The council has promised the proposal would only apply to quiet streets and will not be carried out in “high crime areas” or streets with large amounts of through traffic.

Apparently, the proposal could achieve annual savings of £167,000, although this might well be off-set by my car insurance excess which is paid out on a regular basis when another set of students rip off my windscreen wipers or smash my wing mirrors after a night out at the pub.

This doesn't count as 'high crime', though. Even though it happens several times a year to the majority of cars parked on my road and costs us all a small fortune.

Of course if I murdered the students vandalising our cars, I'd be doing it for the community to raise our crime figures and keep our lights switched on.

I've seen lots of laudable comments from people in the sticks pointing out that they've not had street lighting for years, we need to lower our carbon emissions and there's no evidence to suggest that a lack of lighting contributes to crime.

This is all very well if you're stuck out in the back of beyond where the “youth problem” involves an 11-year-old looking sulky at the bus stop or a group of toddlers getting fractious on the roundabout.

The council itself has pointed to other areas where the great switch-off has actually caused crime to decrease - then again, the examples I've heard given (Great Dunmow and Saffron Walden, both well-to-do areas where crime wasn't rife in the first place) are like comparing the Bronx with Sandringham Estate.

And while I'm all for us lessening our carbon footprint in order that Norfolk isn't subsumed by the sea in coming years leaving us all stranded on top of Gas Hill, there are ways that we could light the streets and not nark the polar bears.

If NCC was really worried about the carbon emissions from street lighting, it'd be investing in LED lighting which is eco-friendly, cheaper to run, low maintenance and can be solar-powered or motion-sensitive to save on the time it is illuminated.

It's not for nothing that the winner of the Millennium Technology Prize went to the inventor of the LED. Though the initial costs are more than for traditional street lights, evidence shows that the switch pays for itself in five years or less through energy savings. After that, the savings are up to 52pc per year in energy costs alone (£1m a year for Norfolk, more than the savings that will be made in five years by switching the lights off at midnight).

In Europe, LED street lighting is hugely popular and seen as a way to provide safe streets without costing the earth. Here in Norfolk, our solution is to switch our lights off - there's a metaphor there, but we haven't got all day, so I won't extract it.

If you live in the countryside, presumably you moved there knowing full well that come sunset, you'd be plunged into darkness.

It's part of the compromise you make for having a garden bigger than a postage stamp and a nice view - it'll be dark at night and if you have a heart attack it may well take an ambulance twice as long to reach you as it would me. Them's your breaks.

Clearly, this is a cost-cutting measure. But surely there are other ways to cut costs before you start switching off the lights and plunging the county into darkness.

Start by shaving 10pc off the top of the inflated wages that County Hall's top personnel are paid * - there are dozens of them on more than £150k, so that'd keep the lights on and boost the day care centre fund in one fell swoop.

Or cancel the £300k consultants brought in to make cost-savings. Or sell that plane on the plinth in the county hall car park. I could go on.

* Yes, I know the argument is that these people are in charge of big budgets and wages are fairly standardised nationwide, but when we can't afford to keep the lights on or old people's centres open, isn't it time to start rethinking those pay brackets? Even the PM isn't on as much as some of our council staff and he's in charge OF THE WHOLE COUNTRY.

The spirit of Christmas lives on

My favourite ever advertisement appeared on the Norfolk Freegle messageboard this week.

Freegle (nee Freecycle), for the uninitiated, is an online community where members can offer items they no longer need to each other or ask for things they want (in reason. My request for a space rocket was met with silence).

It's a bit more complicated than that - there's often a selection process if more than one person applies for an item which differs from Freegler to Freegler - but in a nutshell, it's like Multi-Coloured Swap Shop without Noel Edmunds. Or the swapping bit.

Generally, items that are offered are fairly mundane: electrical equipment, children's clothes, exercise equipment, furniture and so forth. But occasionally, there's a real gem.

On Christmas Eve, this message was posted. I'll protect the modesty of the poster in case they can be identified, hunted down and forced to accept another gift.

“Offered: Unwanted Xmas Present, NR3. It is wrapped in Xmas paper, so we have no idea what it is. It is from someone who has very limited taste and has a track record for buying complete and utter tat.

“It does not rattle, it is heavy, about 20kg, the box is big: 50cm long, 50cm wide and 75cm high. Collection from an NR3 address before 8pm this evening.”

That's one in the eye for anyone who honestly still believes it's the thought that counts.

A “taken” message was posted two hours later, but sadly the taker didn't reveal what the gift actually was. I bet it was an HD ready flatscreen.

How driving can help you lose weight. Not.

Slimmers in Great Yarmouth and Waveney have been invited to sign up for a free weight management course which uses behaviour change to help shift the pounds.

Instead of a bog-standard diet, the Do Something Different NHS programme tackles people's behaviour rather than focusing on dieting.

I may be dim, but I thought all successful slimming programmes involved 'behaviour change' in order for them to work?

Without any behaviour changes whatsoever, it stands to reason that you won't lose weight and will need to be washed with a rag on a stick by the time you're 35.

Would-be slimmers will be asked to fill in a questionnaire before the start of the 12-week programme to find out more about their behaviour patterns.

(Do you: (a) eat too much (b) consume more calories than you burn off (c) have, like, a thyroid problem that means that even though you eat like a bird, you still put on loads of weight and require a winch to have a bath)

Individuals are asked to break down familiar patterns in their lifestyle in an attempt to break the cycle of weight gain.

Public health consultant Shamsher Diu, said: “Instead of driving one way to work, one of the tasks may be to drive a different route to work.”

Presumably the one that doesn't lead you into the drive-through lane of McDonalds.

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