Andy Sherratt is not convinced that all cameras are a good thing. Is he right?

“Good” said lots of people in a local Facebook group about the installation of one of the latest type of speed cameras which has been installed in my village. They were clearly happy that drivers speeding, on phones, not wearing seat belts or driving without MOT or insurance can now be captured by the Vector SR camera from Jenoptik. Certainly those are bad habits that should not be encouraged, But, is it really good that this camera has been installed?

What other sorts of behaviour could this camera catch? Road pricing is the most likely application. Ignoring the toll roads which have pretty much always existed, the idea of road pricing reaches it’s half century this year. It was first mooted in 1964 in the Smeed Report which looked at how implementation of congestion charging in urban areas to reduce traffic congestion through transport demand management.

In 1973, the Greater London Council considered a road pricing scheme, but it was Durham County Council which introduced the UK’s first congestion fee. This happened in 2002, charging £2 for access into Saddler Street in the city centre1. The London congestion charge followed in 2003.

The Blair government announced plans to explore and introduce road pricing in 2006. Until that is a petition signed by over 1.8 million people said this should not be introduced without consultation. The Vecor SR cameras would not have been a consideration, but as the Blair Institute are still pushing for road pricing with the 2021 paper “Avoiding Gridlock Britain” maybe he did.

It is clear that road pricing has been on political agendas repeatedly, but now there is a new push factor in the shape of electric cars. In the 2022/23 financial year the UK Government received £25.1bn from fuel duty, the mandates to enforce electric cars will see this reduce to insignificant amounts over the next couple of decades – something no government can afford. However, what if there was already a connected network of cameras in place monitoring the movement of vehicles through ANPR, just as the Vector SR does, how convenient would that be for Big Brother to adopt?

The thing is using the cameras for tax collection wouldn’t stop there. Remember those restrictions in 2020 where people weren’t allowed to cross from an area in one ‘tier’ to somewhere in a different tier? This was hard to monitor without police stopping cars. But how easy would it be to track a car, and its occupants (remember the camera can see if a seatbelt is being worn) crossing from one tier to another whilst automatically issuing a fine? Implementing the 15 minute city principle nationally to restrict travel becomes really easy, using the stick rather than carrot.

So, is “good” really the right response to the installation of these cameras, or should “good” be the response in relation to the actions of someone who, as happened in Cornwall, cuts the pole to bring the camera down. At least that stops Big Brother watching you. That would be really good wouldn’t it?

Composite Image Jenoptik and George Orwells 1984 German Imprint