A money-saving initiative to dim or switch off street lights has been blamed on a spike in crime.

East Sussex County Council wants to save £885,000 over three years by reducing energy, maintenance costs and light pollution.

But a residents group said the new regime had led to more burglaries and car crime.

Christine Bowman, of Telscombe Residents' Association, said: “We have experienced some petty crime, such as damage to cars, and we’ve put it down to people having the opportunity to get away with it in the dark. There have also been various burglaries and break-ins.”

The new lights are set to be installed in Eastbourne this year and Hasting next year. Dick Edwards, of Hasting Residents’ Association, said: “In many places street lighting is already inadequate and doesn't meet minimum standards.

“There is the question of security and safety and I think turning the lights down would be strongly opposed.”

Godfrey Daniel, Labour county councillor for Hastings, said: “The important thing is that the county council takes on board peoples’ concerns.”

The council said LED lighting was a viable alternative.

Rupert Clubb, director of economy, transport and environment, said: “We have been forced to make very difficult decisions in order to make significant savings. All changes to street lighting have been carried out in consultation with Sussex Police to ensure that, while we achieve the necessary savings, our county remains a safe place to live and work.”

But police blamed unsecure homes and cars for recent crime in Peacehaven and Telscombe – not changes to street lighting.

Sergeant Jenny Abura said: “A number of cars and houses which have been broken into were insecure so we are asking people to double-check their security.

“We have recently arrested a number of people for various offences.

“One recent success was charging a 46-year-old man with two counts of burglary. The number of reported crimes in the district has reduced by 8 per cent in the last year."