An interview with Chris White MP

**Hi Chris. What are your immediate thoughts on the switching off of street lights in Leamington and Warwick?**

The immediate thought is that everybody recognises we need to make savings, but at the same time, lights are very intelligent now. We have got so many thousands of them across the county. What I mean by intelligent is that each light can be individually controlled. So there is some criteria used around junctions and around roundabouts etc. etc. But I think that if you’ve got intelligent lighting, you should be able to utilise that. I think that lights could be controlled by one person with a laptop. We should be able to say, you know, this is a special area with special circumstances… it’s a black spot or whatever, we should be able to modify accordingly.

Not only that… We talk about consultation, monitoring and reviews. We should be able to look back and say, well, what’s changed? A lot of the measure should be, do people safer? Our economy is no longer sort of 9 to 5 Monday to Friday; our economy is very much more flexible than that. People who are working late, people who are working in clubs, people working in factories, longer and different shifts. How do they feel about getting home? Is this a problem?

I have to say that people have written to me to say they think this is a good idea, but I still think we have to look at it again and say, is the right thing to do? I’d also add that making some of these changes in the winter months wouldn’t have been the way I would have gone about it.

**Yeah, I think a lot of people, especially students, do agree with that. I mean, Leamington being quite a popular student town, a lot of us are wandering around at night. I’m sure you’ve heard about Archie Wellbelove, one of our Warwick students who was recently killed by a taxi in Leamington. Another taxi driver reported that he had to ring for the lights to be put back on as they could not see the body after the incident.**

Obviously it’s a great tragedy, and I feel desperately sorry for his family… it’s an appalling incident. I wouldn’t want to be the person who makes the connection between the lights being switched off and what’s happened. I speak to taxi drivers and get their views; their view is that this is a step in the wrong direction.

At the same time, we need to see what’s practical difference, what are people noticing? Particularly for communities like a student community which have different operating hours than others. What impact is that having on their personal lives? Their feeling of being able to walk up and down the streets, which is perfectly legitimate thing to do… is it making people feel cautious, Is it changing people’s patterns and behaviour?

I do hope the county council authority looks into the game, that there is a genuine period of what has changed, what number of people have been in touch, what are people saying about lighting outside their own properties and really give it some proper attention.

**Do you think there’s a viable alternative to switching the lights off? I know all councils have got to save money, that’s a reality. But what other alternatives are there to switching the lights?**

Always I think there are issues in procurement, issues in IT, issues in terms of property. Things that [are] in general terms, what is customer is facing, what is council tax [related], what will people experience. IT projects or whatever systems they will manage to extend. Are we getting the best deals we possibly can? Are we looking at things around?

I don’t know how familiar you are with Warwick, but how much is it costing to dig up the high street on a number of occasions? These are some of the things that could be looked at the some time. If it’s hundreds of thousands we could be potentially be saving. What happens if you keep 10% more of them on, or 20% of them on? Does it have to be all or nothing? I suggest it doesn’t have to be so.

Or perhaps turn more of them off, and have more on Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night. We can be absolutely flexible, we need to be innovative and creative about the way we do these things. I think that the blanket on or off… needs some reconsideration, particularly as over the years people have got used to a system and quality of life, there is a level of expectation. It’s about managing that level of expectation.

**There was some news about a week ago… the street lights in Warwick were changed from 12 until 5 to 1 until 6 instead? Would this really have an impact?**

I come straight back to you and say… well, since the beginning of December, then we’ve had the Christmas period, then we’ve had the snow period. There’s obviously flexibility in the system to respond to those occasions, Christmas Eve, New Years Eve or whatever. I don’t think we’ve got the evidence in front of us to be able to make a decision one way or another. Although, the fact that systems have to be changed to respond to Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, snow etc., means that there is a realisation that lights do need to be on for certain occasions.

**So, give it a year, two years, five years, I’m sure that the Council will be reviewing the situation? Do you think that, as Milton Keynes council reversed its decision to switch off street lights after a 30 per cent rise in accidents and two deaths in unlit areas. Is there a possibility that the situation in Warwick and Leamington could change if further incidents occur?**

If there was a 30% rise in accidents that could be attributed to the change, then yes of course, I would see a change of plan, change of mind. But unless we have some more evidence over a period of time that this can be seen as the case. I think we need to see, from the police, local safety organisations, to have that evidence together to see if accidents have increased in certain areas because of this change in lighting, then it definitely deserves a review. But people need to have that information available to them.

**In the past year or so there have been a lot of plans to extend student housing in Leamington, which have been met with some quite fierce opposition from some Leamington residents and locals.**

To be so bold, I think everyone realises there is a cooperation. Our economy relies heavily on student residents. People shouldn’t forget it. The student part of our town is very much what makes the nature of our town; I think it’s great, the balance, the different needs, varieties. [It’s] important. I can see, however, if you’re living in a property in south Leamington, if that property is vacant for a number of months of the year, or if there’s rubbish outside at the end of every term… I think some of these are stereotypes that perhaps a bit of understanding, a bit of cooperation and a few meetings between local residents and local students wouldn’t go amiss.

**We’re always willing to get involved!**

Absolutely. We should remember that we were all young once, we were all students once! Some people may have students studying in different areas, offspring, relations. It’s about working together. I think there’s obviously, some compromise, you should understand what the problems are, if we do, the council and the university can work together to resolve them. The alternative is not good.

**I’m glad. It’s not good. There were some rather rowdy residents handing things out. Some of us found it quite funny, but it was quite interesting to get a leaflet under your door saying “Get the students out of Leamington”…**

I wouldn’t subscribe to that particular petition…

**The Leamington Learning Grid recently opened at the Town Hall. I’m sure you’re aware over the controversy over the space in Bath Place… Would you support more places like this?**

Yeah. Obviously [it’s difficult] on a Saturday or weekend if you’ve come back home. It’s a good thing that students are using public spaces to study.

**What do you think is the most important issue facing students in Warwick and Leamington today?**

I think I have a reasonable to good of not better relationship with local students, [with] my office being where it is, on a pretty well-beaten path to town. There are a number of societies that engage. On Thursday I’m going to the launch of One World Week up at the University, I feel pretty engaged. [Last year’s] fashion show was one of the most professional things I’ve seen put together, it was absolutely superb.

A lot of people write to me about various policy issues, people come, Oxfam and Amnesty come to have discussions. I think people are [generally] involved in my campaigns.

With regards to issues what are the issues that students face, I think going back to your previous query, I think about students not really that different from anybody else. What students want is a good experience at university, to be confident that there is a potential job to do to when they’re finished. They want to be able to buy a property, have good healthcare services. Extraordinary enough, I don’t think students’ aspirations are different from anyone else in the country.


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