Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Speed Cameras - Darlington's own 'Elephant in the Corner'
Last night was the first full PACT meeting for Whinfield, held at the primary school. PACT stands for Partners and Communities Together, and is a Durham Constabulary initiative to bring together representatives from the emergency services, the local authority and members of the local community to decide local priorities.
The 5 ward councillors representing the area (Tom and Veronica for Haughton North, myself, David and Andy for Haughton West) publicised the meeting via our various letters and newsletters. The Police too had posters up around the area. And in truth, for a first meeting, turnout wasn't too bad.
It is up to the PACT to prioritise key issues which will be taken forward and a report-back held at the next meeting. A big talking point which was raised early on by local people was speeding on Barmpton Lane and Salters Lane South.
These are important, relatively long link roads for estates in the area, but there the similarity ends. Barmpton Lane has no traffic calming and has been plagued by complaints of speeding for years. Salters Lane South on the other hand, has extensive traffic claming in the form of chicanes and traffic 'cushions'. And yet still, some mindless idiots apparently insist on speeding there.
The latter road is a very good example of the simple truth that if a driver is not bothered about the risk s/he poses to the community or indeed themselves, and aren't interested in damage to their vehicles, they can race to high speeds in built-up areas on almost any road. For the vast majority of drivers, the excellent traffic claming scheme on Salters Lane South is a mental prompt which reminds them that speeding here (a road which serves four estates and the Education Village) is not only illegal but effectively constitutes anti-social behaviour. A few are prepared to ignore the obvious, however.
So here the Council have done their bit, but what of the Police? When drivers ignore traffic calming, what is there left? Residents of course fall back on enforcement - drivers' fear of a heavy fine and at least 3 points on the license. The PACT meeting last night heard from residents asking where is the speed enforcement on Barmpton Lane? And the answer (with all respect to Jonathan and Rebecca, who do a fine job patrolling our streets in Haughton and Whinfield and fronted the meeting) was that it seems there has been little if any response.
Almost alone amongst the 43 constabularies in England and Wales, Durham has set its face against speed cameras. Feted by the likes of Jeremy Clarkson, petrolheads and the Daily Telegraph, Durham has no fixed speed cameras. Otherwise the force relies upon a single mobile speed camera unit for the whole of the County - the Constabulary's own website tells us that currently, it may be seen in North Road or McMullen Road in Darlington - 2 in 13 sites around Co. Durham. Is that a real deterrant? I'll let you decide.
Contrast this approach with our neighbouring police areas in Cleveland and Northumbria, who have a distinctly less tolerant attitude towards speeding traffic, with speed cameras on high risk roads. I appreciate that many drivers think this approach is overkill. You might feel differently if it was your child who had been mown down by a speeding car. Is Durham enlightened in its softly-softly approach? Or is it wilfully turning a blind eye to the menace of speeding in our communities?
I post this simply because I don't feel there has been a proper debate in Darlington about traffic and speed. It may be the the greater majority of the Borough's residents agree with Durham Constabulary and don't want to see speed cameras targetted on those roads which have the worst speed-related accident record. I simply don't know.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not beating a drum here for the proliferation of static speed cameras as a some panacea for the speeding problem. But can a Police force with a single white van with a camera in the back serving nearly 600,000 people really claim to be serious about speed? Listening to the frustrations of residents last night makes me think that the Police need to be open to a genuine discussion with our communities about this issue. If the PACT process can do that, then it truly will have earned the respect of the people it serves.