Six traffic areas clock up £1m-plus speed profits
By David Millward, Transport Correspondent
Six road safety partnerships have each made a profit of more than £1 million from their speed cameras, according to figures released by Whitehall.
Speed camera graphic
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The accounts of the partnerships will intensify the controversy over cameras, showing that in some areas they do little more than cover their cost while in other parts of the country they have raised huge amounts of cash.
While supporters maintain that the cameras are a vital weapon in the effort to reduce road casualties, the devices are resented by motorists who face £60 fines and three points on their licence for each transgression.
Unless the surplus is reinvested in more cameras, it has had to be surrendered to the Treasury. However, Alistair Darling, the Transport Secretary, recently announced an overhaul of the speed camera programme, in which the surpluses - of up to £110 million a year - would go to a new national road safety fund.
The biggest surplus for 2004-05 was claimed by Northumbria Safety Camera Partnership. It made a profit of £1.7 million, with motorists in the county paying more than £4 million in fines.
One of the most modest surpluses - £15,416 - was in North Wales, where Richard Brunstrom, the chief constable, has attracted national fame for his outspoken support for the cameras. However, the total raised in fines - in a sparsely populated part of the country - was more than £3 million.
Other partnerships to break the £1 million barrier were Bedfordshire and Luton, Hertfordshire, Lancashire, Mid and South Wales and Thames Valley. In London, where motorists paid nearly £9 million, the partnership made a fairly modest £376,000 surplus.
The latest statistics served to renew the debate over the role of cameras.
Edmund King, the executive director of the RAC Foundation, said: "These figures show that there is a lot that can be spent on wider road safety improvements.
"Some cameras are money-making enterprises, some are not. I have seen a document from a road safety partnership warning that it was in danger of not breaking even and suggesting two options.
"One was to place cameras where they would catch more motorists and the other was to lower the speed threshold for prosecution.
"We have to slow people down, but the problem is that cameras were the first and last resort."
Chris Grayling, the Tories' shadow transport secretary, said the detailed figures showed beyond reasonable doubt that cameras were being used as a "stealth tax" in some parts of the country.
"It is right that they should be used where they contribute to road safety, but not as a means to raise money for other purposes."