Stevenage commuters should not have to leave work early in winter if they want to walk home through Fairlands Valley Park, a petitioner has said.

Members of Stevenage Borough Council have agreed they should ask wildlife experts and finance chiefs about using reflective edging at the lakes during a meeting on Wednesday, December 20.

Campaigner Jennifer Huygen told cross-party councillors: “You have no choice but to trust your surroundings without being able to see them and for many people this is not a reasonable ask.”

The Comet: Fairlands Valley Park in the darkFairlands Valley Park in the dark (Image: Jennifer Huygen)

More than 1,300 people have signed Ms Huygen’s 38Degrees petition for lighting in the “cherished” park – more than the 1,000-signature threshold required to secure a full council debate.

Council members agreed they would need to balance lighting on paths and cycleways with habitat protections and tight budgets.

Ms Huygen, aged 27, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “This petition was based on my own personal experience.

The Comet: Fairlands Valley Park, StevenageFairlands Valley Park, Stevenage (Image: Jennifer Huygen)

“I work full time and when I finish work at 5pm, I would like to go for a walk or get back into running.

“I live five minutes from the park but it is pitch black.”

Ms Huygen added she was “surprised” so many people joined her call for lighting.

“I want to be physically active and feel safe, but I can’t see my surroundings without lighting,” she said.

“This is about physical safety – not bumping into other people or tripping over.

“But it’s also about emotional safety and about the feeling of being watched or not.

“This is also a really important route for commuters, children and for people in general.

“After I started the petition, I received support from retailers.

“I heard from commuters who leave work early in the winter so they can get home in the light.”

Campaigners have called for “eco-friendly, wildlife-conscious lighting along the park’s main pathways and access points that are not lit yet” including in the “showground” area near the A602 Broadhall Way and the Roaring Meg retail park.

Stevenage Borough Council’s Labour Group, which has a political majority, moved a motion to include the plea for lighting in a public consultation ahead of a proposed Stevenage Green Spaces Strategy.

Council officers could be tasked with working out how much reflective edging or markers on pathways will cost and finding external funding for the project.

They will also ask Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust and Hertfordshire Constabulary for their views on the scheme.

Labour councillor Sarah Mead, who represents Shephall ward near the south of the park, said she “wants to meet the objectives of the petitioner” but warned she “would not be in favour of it” if wildlife experts advise against lighting.

Cllr Mead urged her colleagues to consider “keeping the dark skies even for those one-off events”.

She said: “When it comes on the news that there’s going to be a meteor shower, [these] are the only times I do go to Fairlands Valley in the night time and then I’m glad to have that dark space.

“We have got quite a lot of light pollution in Stevenage as is.

“As much as I want to meet the objectives of the petition signatories, I’m also aware there hasn’t been the opportunity to voice their concerns.

“For the cycling network, I think there’s no doubt about it – the cost of living crisis is crunching people so much we are reaching the point where people won’t be able to afford a car so it seems prudent to make provision for cyclists.

“We need to find a compromise to meet all of those objectives.”

Conservative Group leader Cllr Phil Bibby, who represents Woodfield ward, said the authority faces three challenges – finding a source of funding to install lights and keep them on, protecting wildlife and carbon reductions.

He said his group supported the motion.

Cllr Bibby said lighting habitats could affect nocturnal and daytime animals’ circadian rhythms.

“I have seen it used quite successfully in Cambridge, low-level strip lighting to light the edges of a pathway,” he said.

“If we lit Fairlands Valley, there’s a precedent for other parks in Stevenage as well.

“We don’t want to get ourselves into a carbon-generating facility, so perhaps solar or wind power lighting is an answer there.”

Liberal Democrat councillor Andy McGuinness, of Manor ward, said: “I actually quite like running in the dark, but that’s my personal preference.

“I know from listening to colleagues and residents that actually … people don’t feel safe whether they are walking, walking their dog, pushing a pram, on a bike.

“It’s not safe and people won’t do it.

“If we want people to use the park all times of the day in an appropriate way, we need to put in the work so they can do that.”

Cllr McGuinness said he hoped the authority would “go further than reflective edging” to take “a really positive great idea to the next level”.

Cllr Simon Spellar, Shephall ward councillor and the Labour-run authority’s executive member for the environment said: “There is a funding-stroke-resources aspect to it.

“Hypothetically, you could come up with a bundle of costings and you might be asking yourselves: ‘What other things would you forego in order to do the lighting?’

“We would be quite happy to move this motion forward, but not at the expense of our wildlife, and not at the expense of our dark skies.”