Anti-speed camera council leader served driving ban

The leader of a council considering scrapping speed cameras was once banned from driving for speeding, it was revealed today.

Swindon Borough Council is looking at proposals to get rid of cameras and find other ways to spend the £400,000 annual contribution it currently makes to the local safety camera partnership.

Roderick Bluh, the leader of the Conservative-controlled council, was banned for three months after he collected 12 penalty points on his licence for speeding.

Mr Bluh said the ban, which was imposed before he became Swindon council leader in 2006, had changed his behaviour but said there were other ways to improve people's driving.

"I was banned for three months. It has affected my behaviour," he told Sky News.

"But all cameras do is catch you when you have speeded."

Swindon South MP Anne Snelgrove, who is parliamentary private secretary to Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, called on the council to reject the plan.

"It will be an invitation to boy racers from all over the country to come to Swindon and break the speed limit with no fear of a fine or points on their licence," she warned.

"I'm urging the council to think again. They need to think about the safety of the children of Swindon on our roads."

Mr Bluh said Conservative councillors moved a motion on the issue two months ago and a decision will be made by September.

Mr Bluh said: "We are not going to compromise safety, but we are taking the opportunity to review how we utilise the money.

"A huge amount of money is being raised by speed cameras and we are seeking better ways of ensuring road safety without penalising motorists."

It is believed to be the first time a council in the UK has challenged the Government over the issue.

Chief Inspector Ian Copus, head of the Wiltshire Police roads policing unit, said there was evidence that speed cameras had reduced accidents and saved lives.

Collision statistics for Wiltshire and Swindon for the 12 months ending in April showed a reduction of more than 30 per cent in the number of people killed or seriously injured compared with pre-speed camera levels.

"For children under 16 years the reduction is 47.7 per cent," he said.

"At the core camera sites in isolation, the collision statistics indicated a 69 per cent reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured. For children under 16 years the reduction is 58.5 per cent."

At core sites in Swindon, in the three years before cameras were introduced in 2002, an average of 19 people were killed on the roads every year.

"Since safety camera enforcement began at these sites the average number of persons killed or seriously injured is 5.9 per year, a reduction of 69 per cent," he said.

Swindon raised the idea of withdrawing from the Wiltshire and Swindon Safety Camera Partnership after a shake-up of speed camera funding rules which means the Treasury now keeps the proceeds of fines.

The Government then makes road-safety grants to councils.

Ministers argue this breaks the controversial link between cash and camera, which critics said gave authorities a financial incentive to fine more motorists.

Tory councillor Peter Greenhalgh, head of highways, transport and strategic planning for Swindon, said the money should be spent on a range of local safety measures.

"These are far more effective than speed cameras which, I feel, are a blatant tax on the motorist," he said.

Mrs Snelgrove has launched a Hands off Our Speed Cameras campaign and said the Government pays out more in road safety grants than it collects in speed camera fines.

She quoted a letter to Mr Bluh from transport minister Jim Fitzpatrick, who said £99.5 million was collected in speed camera fines in 2005/6 and £110 million was paid out in road safety grants during the same year.

A spokesman for the Department of Transport said the funding decision was a local matter for Swindon, but added: "Safety cameras are there to save lives not to make money.

"The Government is clear that the best safety camera is the one that takes no fines at all but succeeds in deterring drivers from speeding."

The Automobile Association (AA) said it did not agree with the wholesale removal of speed cameras in Swindon.

"There is a role for cameras and they should be one weapon in the armoury that's used to improve road safety," spokesman Edmund King said.

"The problem is they are often seen as the first and last resort rather than looking at a junction improvement or traffic calming.

"The most pragmatic thing to do would be to look at where cameras are effective and where they are not."

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