A COUNCILLOR has called for Basingstoke residents to ‘make their voices heard’ on topics of streelighting and police presence, following an increase in overnight crimes reported to Basingstoke police in recent weeks.

Cllr Jack Cousens (Basingstoke and Deane Independent Group, representing Brookvale and Kings Furlong) has agreed that measures need to be taken to improve security after a spate of burglaries in his ward, but says that residents need to get their voices heard by the right people.

It comes after Basingstoke police neighbourhood team issued safety advice to residents last week following a “small rise” in reports of crimes occurring mainly at night, including burglaries and thefts from vehicles.

Hampshire constabulary said the team would be carrying out patrols in “hotspot areas”. When asked where these were, it confirmed that the advice was in response to recent attempted burglaries in Kings Furlong, but added: “It is fair to say that crime does tend to move around.”

It has led to renewed discussion among Basingstoke residents about the appropriate streetlight hours in residential areas.

Ed Stone, who lives in Brighton Hill North, is one resident who feels that council consultation was insufficient, and wants a review to be taken in light of the recent reported crime rise.

He said: “The original consultation was not large enough, not comprehensive enough. Not everyone affected was canvassed.

“It was framed as an ecological agreement - to save the planet - but it’s not that at all, it’s about saving money, which is our money.”

Mr Stone, 49, told the Gazette that not only was he not consulted on the issue the first time round, but he also feels more transparency is needed - with geographical figures published to indicate whether the decision is working, or leading to the crime increase.

“It affects my street, why shouldn’t I be consulted? You feel petty moaning about it, but I have spoken to many people who share the same opinion and are incensed by it.

“The figures should be mapped against times and against areas. That gives us a more informed view.

“One serious crime probably writes off all the cost savings. I just don’t think it’s worth it. In my opinion, one victim is too many.

“With the latest car crime spate I hear stories of people doing it bold as brass. But of course they’re going to, if they can’t be seen.”

It comes after the Hampshire County Council cut the hours of streetlights in residential areas last year, to save on energy costs.

Cllr Cousens said that streetlight cuts are in some ways understandable given restricted local authority budgets, but says that residents must respond to regular consultation on these issues if they want their voices to be heard.

He added: “Having the street lights on longer would be of benefit. However, it is a decision that is made by Hampshire County Council.”

“If residents, not just in Basingstoke but across the county, do not respond to consultations, it is giving decision makers in the county council the de facto authority to say nobody minds. We need to have people being vocal.

“As much as I would like to get them back, and the wider community would like to get them back, local authority budgets are horrifically stretched.

“If you put it to people like that - would you like us to spend it on people or spend it on lights? - people are always going to win.”

When asked whether the recent crime spate would prompt a review of streetlights, Councillor Rob Humby, deputy leader of HCC and executive member for economy, transport and environment, said: “The County Council took the decision to switch off street lights between 1am and 4am in Hampshire’s residential areas from April 2019. This results in both carbon emission reductions and financial savings – now made even more necessary as a result of the ongoing costs and consequences of COVID-19 as well as the continued need for increased social care provision for growing numbers of vulnerable adults and children.

“The changes in 2019 followed a public consultation and took into account academic research and evidence from other authorities. I can assure residents that we continue to work closely with the Police and will actively review any arrangements in areas where they express concern.”

Cllr Cousens also added that another major deterrent in need of additional funding is police presence - an issue subject to national government decision-making.

He said: “But by the same token, one of the things we would really like is we need more front-line bobbies on the beat.

“The biggest deterrent is to have a larger, more prevalent, more physical, more visible presence.

“Earlier in the year I supported measures to have more CSPOs but, whilst they are really good, they don’t have the same levels of authority as a police officer does. We want the extra added level of give us the officers. That is a national issue.”

Cllr Cousens recognised that at this time of year, it was likely that residential areas would be worse hit by burglaries.

“We are also on the cusp of the time when people are buying presents to give for Christmas. There’s a bit of people buying early, because a couple of weeks ago they didn’t know what restrictions would allow later. So there is potentially that element of thieves hedging their bets and chancing their arm to see if there are going to be goodies up for grabs,” he said.

“We as homeowners have got to take a little bit of responsibility ourselves as well. Don’t leave things on show, or out in the open. Make sure your shed has a lock, etcetera. It is those little things that may seem like annoying household admin but could help avoid aggro, especially when it comes to involving an insurance company.”

However, he said that another step residents can take is to get their views across - and hopes a longer-term shift in collaboration between authorities can help make this process easier.

He said: “People need to be vocal in the right avenues and the right places. People want to get things off their chest to one person and that person to sort it. We’ve got to make it easier, so if someone has got a grievance, they can put it in the one pot and have it heard. Because if someone comes to me with a streetlight query, all I can do is pass it onto the county council and once you get to two, three degrees of separation from the person it was reported to, you automatically lose the resident’s trust.

“Everything that is local is national and everything that is national is local. The government has said it wants to work on devolution, but now it needs to look at that and how they want to do it.”

The latest Hampshire Constabulary crime statistics available, covering September 2020, show there were eight burglaries recorded in the Basingstoke area that month. There were also 13 instances of theft.

Echoing the sentiments of the police, Cllr Cousens said: “We are the hotspot at the moment, but then it will be somewhere else and somewhere else.”