Retailers' safety and livelihoods may be put at risk by the growing number of councils that are opting to switch off street lights in a bid to save money.

The UK's 7.5 million street lights cost more than £500m a year to run, and in a bid to save money councils are running them for much shorter periods, or turning them off altogether.

In Essex, the council has turned off 18,000 of the 220,000 street lights. Alan Carr, who runs a Costcutter in Newport in the county, said the move could be bad news for retailers in high-crime areas. "It's possible that there could be a rise in vandalism and burglaries," he said. "We've had no problems yet, but we're always on our guard."

In Buckinghamshire, where more than 1,600 street lights have been switched off, Spar retailer Peter Sitchel said he was worried about the impact on trade: "I do worry that after the clocks go back many people, particularly the elderly, might not venture out."

He added: "Plunging us all into darkness is a false economy. There are other ways to save money, such as turning lights down to 50% power. A compromise must be reached."

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