Student muggings spark row over lights
Controversial plans to switch off streetlights in Exeter have prompted an angry backlash from students.
The University of Exeter Students' Guild and the student newspaper Exeposé have joined forces to fight Devon County Council's scheme to turn off street lights at night to save cash and energy.
They have launched a campaign called Save Our Streetlights following a string of recent muggings and assaults on students in the city.
More than 1,500 students and staff at the university have signed a petition against the plans, which would see many of Exeter's 12,000 street lights turned off or dimmed between 12.30am and 5.30am to save money and reduce its carbon footprint. The city has been earmarked for the first phase of the new system, which would eventually be rolled out across Devon.
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The Students' Guild, which started campaigning on the issue in 2010, has described the plans as "reckless".
Last month several students were reportedly mugged and physically assaulted at night in residential areas close to the city centre.
A female student was injured and had her bag snatched during an incident on October 19, outside Exeter City Football Club on St James Road. In a separate incident, on October 16, a male student was knocked to floor and had his wallet stolen on Pennsylvania Road.
Grace Hopper, the Guild's vice-president for welfare and community, said: "We have deep concerns that the proposals to reduce street lighting in 'non-essential' areas of Exeter will be a deeply regressive step in the positive work that has been done by the police and partners in combating criminal and anti-social activity in recent years.
"Furthermore, we believe the dimming of lights in 'essential' areas could have serious effects on the numbers of traffic-related incidents, personal attacks and could undo the widely-held belief that Exeter is a safe space for all of its' residents." Tom Payne, Exeposé editor, said: "Exeposé's main concern is that residential areas set to be affected by the switch-off are becoming hot-spots for muggings and physical abuse on students.
"The campaign has really hit a nerve with students and exposed the reality of what is happening on the streets."
PCSO Sarah Bloor, who currently covers the areas of Pennsylvania, Duryard and the university, said robbery was "more likely" to take place in quiet or dark areas.
Local Inspector Terry Bissessar said police were working closely with students and campus security staff in the areas of sexual offences, theft and burglary prevention.
A spokesman for Devon County Council said it hoped to implement part-night lighting in Exeter next year.
"We plan to hold consultation meetings around the city but haven't set dates yet, but will advertise them widely so we can gather as many views as possible.
"We know there are concerns from some areas of the city, and that's what we're hoping to get a feel for from the consultation, before final decisions about the detail are made."