ERIC Pickles has dismissed calls to switch Basildon’s street lights back on, saying he wouldn’t do it “on the off chance someone wants to get out and do aerobics at 3am.”

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government was attacked by councillors from his own party over his comments about the controversial part-night lighting scheme, which involves street lights being turned off between midnight and 5am.

They were made as he launched the Conservative Party’s election campaign for Basildon Council on Friday.

Mr Pickles, MP for Brentwood and Ongar, said: “Essex County Council has been immensely brave because the easy thing would be to keep the lights on.

“In a time when we are on the cusp with regards to our electricity supply, we can’t have lights burning all night on the off chance someone wants to get out and do aerobics at 3am.

“I love it because I am economy- minded. It’s saving a phenomenal amount of money, it’s decreased crime because burglars love ambient lighting, it’s nice to see the night sky and, as someone who lives in a main street that has had its lights cut off, I can get a good night’s sleep.”

Questioned about the high number of shift workers in Basildon who come and go during the night, Mr Pickles said: “I don’t believe that someone who is working in shifts is scared to go out because there’s no light.

We have moved on a bit in the world. It makes a nice story, but the reality is people get on with their lives.”

A split has emerged in the party as local politicians oppose the street light switch off.

John Dornan, Basildon Tory councillor responsible for environment, has been lobbying Essex County Council to switch the lights back on.

He said: “We will have to agree to disagree. Being on the ground, we absolutely know we have the pulse rate right for Basildon and people want the lights back on.

“We have part of the Thames Gateway business hub here, taxi drivers are coming to me saying they are scared to go on to estates with the lights off or are worried about not being able to see addresses.

“Businesses in Basildon are the lifeblood of this town and we need to take action. The fight is not over.”

Basildon Council leader Tony Ball, who represents Wickford North, said: “I wouldn’t say it was a brave thing to do, I would say it was a courageous thing to do. We need to keep the lights on in the right areas. Perception of crime has increased. We will work with Essex County Council in areas where we can prove they need to be on.”