THOUSANDS of old street lights across Cumbria are to be upgraded to new energy efficient ones in a £7.6 modernisation.

Cumbria County Council wants to slash its £2 million annual energy bill and expects the new models to save the under-pressure public purse £860,000 by 2016-17.

Around 12,000 new LED lights will start to be installed Cumbria-wide from summer in a rolling programme over three years.

By the end, none of the county’s street lights should be brighter than 80 watts.

They will replace many old generation high-wattage street lights which burn energy and only have two settings - 100 per cent full beam or off, said the council.

The new versions reduce wattage by 50 per cent and allow different ‘dimming settings’ which the authority means they can be set according to their ‘appropriate’ location.

However, CCC has stressed that it does not mean plunging communities into the dark, although whether people are turned on or turned off by the idea, remains to be seen.

Only around third of its total lighting stock will have the option to alter brightness.

A ‘rolling review’ would then take place of the remaining 33,000 old generation street lights, which may either be left as they are, not replaced or turned off altogether - providing communities want it.

The council says 3,000 of its older lights do have a dimmable lights, but the only current option to reduce energy consumption in the remaining 30,000 older lights would be to keep them on in the evening and then switch off from midnight to 5am, or turn off completely.

But it insists any dimming, reduction in lighting hours or full switch off would only ever take place after local people were consulted first and safety assessments carried out.

The proposals are likely to be approved by the ruling Lab-Lib Dem Cabinet at a meeting next week.

They are just one of a range of solutions officers have come up with to help the cash-strapped council make £24 million in savings in 2014-15.

In addition, the authority says it well help Cumbria become a ‘greener, more energy-efficient county’.

Of the streetlights currently set at dimmed levels, all 50 are in Carlisle as part of a trial.

The council says there has beem no safety issues or public concern raised at all so far.

Labour’s Cllr Keith Little, the Cabinet member responsible for highways, said: “We're making the investment now to help us save money and conserve energy further down the line.

" I don't want anyone to be concerned that it's our intention to dim or switch off all the old street lights - this is not what this is about.

"But we believe there is scope to significantly reduce lighting levels while still maintaining safety.

"Some households have already told us they would rather not have their lights left on overnight and we want to use this new investment as an opportunity to review whether we can be more energy efficient and not over-light areas for no good reason."