IT IS not often history is made in a stuffy committee room within the bowels of Swindon Council’s Civic Offices.But the council’s cabinet has done just that.

The tension that enveloped Committee Room 6 last night was evident the moment councillors and hacks took their positions ahead of what will go down as a momentous decision in the town’s road safety strategy.

That Swindon Council will withdraw from the Wiltshire and Swindon Safety Camera Partnership will hardly come as a surprise to those who have been following the speed camera debate in the Adver for the best part of 12 months.

And it will no doubt be greeted with joy by Top Gear loudmouth Jeremy Clarkson and his chums, who praised the council for suggesting that they would pull the plug on speed cameras in the borough.

Yet there was stunned disbelief from opposition councillors when Peter Greenhalgh, the council’s lead member for transport, and the rest of the cabinet stayed true to their word.

Labour’s transport spokesman Coun Derique Montaut clearly had not expected the cabinet to keep to their boast and began his speech to the room by congratulating them on backtracking from their original position – leading to much head scratching from cabinet members.

Coun Greenhalgh thanked the Adver for its balanced coverage of the debate, but stressed that the overall media portrayal had focused too much attention on speed cameras.

He said: “I have said time and time again that this is not about speed cameras – this is about doing our best to reduce road accidents in Swindon.

“I did not become a councillor to be hailed as a hero on Top Gear. It’s very easy to make this a laughing matter but this a serious issue and that is how we have treated it.

“The issue is road safety – why am I the only one talking about people being killed on our roads?

“I have never said that speed cameras don’t work – of course they do. They are effective in stopping people speeding in a particular spot but they are not effective in stopping people being killed or seriously injured on our roads.

“The number of accidents on our roads has risen, despite the presence of speed cameras, and it’s clear that something has to be done about that.”

Opposition councillors put equally strong cases to the cabinet in defence of speed cameras, and routinely called on Coun Greenhalgh to confirm that speed cameras would disappear from Swindon’s roads. He refused to be drawn on this.

It was left to council leader Rod Bluh to sum up a groundbreaking decision that will be watched keenly by councils across the country.

Coun Bluh said: “Politics is about making policies and it is also about challenging policies if you do not believe they are working.

“If you think the status quo isn’t working then you need to challenge that, however difficult that challenge is. If we can’t do that then maybe we shouldn’t be councillors.”

And with that Swindon’s cabinet made one of the most difficult and scrutinised decisions they are ever likely to make. Speed cameras in Swindon may face the chop, but the debate around them has just begun.

* See today's paper for reaction and analysis.