A RING of steel able to monitor shopping habits of motorists will soon circle the city centre.
Fixed automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras are being installed on all major roads into Chester and will be linked to the city CCTV scheme within weeks.
The cameras are linked to the police national database to track down travelling criminals and motorists without insurance or road tax.
But, it was revealed this week, Chester businesses could also use ANPR for marketing purposes, giving them information on where customers travel from and when they travel.
Chester City Council CCTV manager Peter Johnson said the cameras are being installed for security reasons.
He added: 'Some shopping malls use ANPR for marketing purposes to track where their customers' cars are registered, then they concentrate their advertising campaigns in that area.
'The purpose of the cameras in Chester at this stage is for security and safety. We can never say they will never be used for marketing but at this stage it is not the priority.'
Mr Johnson said there are often commercial uses for security technology.
'We suggested installing PA systems on some CCTV cameras to assist in the event of an emergency evacuation of the city,' he said. 'Someone said these could also be used to promote events and businesses but at that point we put the brakes on.'
The cameras are situated on tall poles on each main route in and out of Chester and will be monitored by CCTV operators in Chester Town Hall and at Cheshire Constabulary HQ in Winsford.
Mr Johnson said: 'We had a hugely successful trial with a few cameras over a short period in 2003 and managed to recover a van which had been stolen from Liverpool and then travelled to Chester. Other cars were found to have no tax or insurance.
'The system will run all the time but on specific dates we will have a team of officers ready in the city to target any vehicles detected by the system.
'We are not targeting ordinary motorists. We have a big enough job on our hands tackling criminals.'