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March 17, 2004 at 9:12 am #8699XV16Participant
Speed cameras secrecy probe
The team running Norfolk’s speed cameras was branded secret and unaccountable last night as councillors demanded major changes to make it more accountable to the public.
The county council’s scrutiny committee heard there was growing anger that the Norfolk Casualty Reduction Partnership (NCRP) was not answerable to taxpayers and was basically running itself without any democratic input. Members want the process opened up, with councillors given seats on the board.
And in a separate development, the EDP has learned that Norfolk police have commissioned a fresh report into the siting of speed cameras amid growing hostility from motorists and a suspicion that some locations have more to do with raising revenue than reducing accidents.
Funds raised from fines on speeding motorists are used to pay for the NCRP, with any surplus going to the Treasury’s coffers in Whitehall.
The move comes less than six months after a previous study was compiled to look into similar claims, which found that 82pc of the public and 79pc of motorists backed them.
Since then, there has been a well-publicised national backlash against speed cameras, and police insiders are privately hoping the NCRP can be opened up to greater public scrutiny.
Officials fear the preliminary findings have highlighted that the cameras were not placed solely where they should be, according to Department of Transport criteria. They feel the siting situation and the perceived “democratic deficit” needed to be tackled if the public were not to lose faith in speed cameras.
Councillors complained they were unable to get information out of the partnership on basic points such as how much money it spent, how many staff it had, and the siting of cameras.
Celia Cameron, scrutiny committee chairman, said members wanted to know why the partnership was “so exclusive and secretive”.
“There is the issue in general of members not knowing who is on the board, what it does or how it makes its decisions,” she said. “I think there is an issue about whether we should have member representation on the board.”
The drive for greater openness was part of a wider concern that such local partnerships – part of the Government’s drive to improve public services – were not accountable.
She added that the scrutiny committee was set to look at the Children’s Fund later in the year because of similar concerns about lack of councillor involvement.
Stephen Bett, chairman of the planning, transportation and the environment review panel and also a member of Norfolk Police Authority said the NCRP lacked transparency.
“As far as the Police Authority are concerned the police are very nervous about the criteria being observed by the camera partnership,” he said during the meeting.
“When the chief constable asked where the sites were and why they were there he got very short shrift and he is not very happy about that.
“There is very great concern from the police because they are getting the flak for what’s going on and they have no control over it.”
And he said it should be opened up to full public scrutiny.
“I think we ought to have members of this council on the board,” he added. “I think they need to be answerable and at the moment I don’t think they are. We do not know how many staff they have got and we do not know why they have got these staff.
“The police are doing their own independent investigation into this, looking at where the cameras go and everything else about it. I think it would be very useful to have because it will tell us where the accidents are.”
The committee agreed that a report should be prepared for the Planning, Transportation and the Environment Review Panel, which could make recommendations to the council’s cabinet about the accountability issue.
Mervin Dadd, Norfolk Constabulary spokesman admitted the new report was a reflection of the changing public mood.
But he said it was too early to comment on the new report as investigations were still continuing and the findings would be submitted to the Police Authority.
“The Constabulary is aware of the public’s apprehension over the use and positioning of safety cameras,” he said. “If cameras are to remain accepted as an important tool in road safety it is essential that the public can be confident that cameras are positioned in appropriate places and in accordance with the criteria set by Government.
“At the beginning of this year, we commissioned our own thorough review of camera sites throughout the county. Once this research has been completed, it will be presented to the Police Authority for their scrutiny.”
Nobody from the NRCP was available for comment yesterday.
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