FEARS the big street light switch-off would increase crime across south Essex have not been borne out by figures obtained by the Echo.

The number of reported crimes in Basildon, Rochford, and Castle Point has largely stayed the same since the controversial switch-off, between midnight and 5am.

The lights went off inRochford and Castle Point in January, and in Basildon in February, sparking outrage from concerned residents.

But the figures, obtained by a Freedom of Information request, show reported crime figures have in fact gone down.

Nick Alston, Essex Police and Crime Commissioner, has given the numbers a cautious welcome.

He said: “Am I surprised by the figures? No. But do I think there is enough evidence on the table yet? No.

“I’m encouraged by these figures, but we need to remember they are only quarterly statistics.

We need to look at the bigger picture before making any final conclusions.

“From a personal point of view, I’m happy with the lights going out where I live as it means less light pollution, but I can totally understand why people are troubled by it.

“I understand Basildon is a town that is different to other areas in Essex, and officers have raised concerns about the effect the switch-off could have on the town.”

The figures show in the south of the county there were 148 reported crimes in December.

But since the switch-off programme started, crime fell to 105 incidents in March, before rising slightly to 118 in April.

There was a backlash from residents and an opposition councillor when the Tory administration at County Hall adopted its programme of switch-offs – which cost £6million with the installation of new switches, but would save £1million a year.

Residents contacted the Echo, saying crime was rising, with fears Basildon would be turned into a crime hot spot.

Six estates – Five Links, Felmores, Langdon Hills, Chalvedon, Pitsea 123 and Craylands were given a reprieve while County Hall looked at whether crime had increased, but it is not known if these figures will affect that.

David Harrison, Ukip councillor for Wickford Park, handed in a petition signed by hundreds of people on the Wick estate, demanding the lights are turned back on.

He said: “People who are paying their council tax are seeing County Hall spending money on the likes of pensions and expensive cabinet members, but they should listen to the people.

“There are fears on the Wick estate as it has so many alleyways and back roads.”

Alf Papworth, 80, of Ashdown Crescent, Hadleigh, is the co-ordinator of the local neighbourhood watch and said he feared the amount of crime would increase.

He said: “I’m surprised about the figures because it is a stupid policy to turn the lights off and I’ve heard that officers have been concerned about crime going up in places.