Swindon decision does not add up

You don't normally think of Swindon as a hotbed of interesting news. But the decision by Swindon councillors last week to scrap speed cameras because they believe local safety measures are more cost effective propelled the borough into the national media with a story that, I suspect, will run and run.

News of this badly judged decision ran on most major channels and highways councillor Peter Greenhalgh duly appeared on the Today programme for a grilling. He sounded taken aback by all the attention and, frankly, ill prepared.

John Humphrys, not known for his fondness for cars, made obvious points about the costs involved and the impact that cameras have made on road accidents. Greenhalgh, by contrast, was full of tired one-liners ('Any death on the roads in Swindon is one too many') and thin on facts or clear thinking ('It is our moral obligation to do whatever we can to reduce these fatalities').

I won't get into the endless arguments about whether or not speed kills. Nor will I dwell on the fact that Swindon is Conservative-run.

What I would say is that this decision has been looming since the summer - it's been covered in the media since July - so Swindon should have had plenty of time to think through the consequences, line up its arguments, plan a media strategy and get its third-party support on side. Instead, we had local police and road safety charities lining up to criticise the move, an unconvincing performance by the council's mouthpiece and the usual childish enthusiasm expressed for a fightback against the 'war on the motorist'.

It may seem wrong to put a cost on a lost life, but since opponents of speed cameras tend to focus on money, consider this. The financial cost of a fatal road accident has been put at £1.4m, in terms of healthcare, social costs, lost employment, and managing the impact on relatives and others. Swindon council is due to spend £368m this financial year. The amount it is withdrawing from the speed camera partnership is £321,571. That's less than 1,000th of its total spending, and a quarter of the estimated cost of just one fatality.

Luke Blair is a director at London Communications Agency.

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