Concerns voiced as councillors are advised to allow Borders CCTV network to go to rack and ruin

Councillors in the Borders are being advised to let the region’s closed-circuit television network go to rack and ruin rather than spending the hundreds of thousands of pounds it would cost to bring it up to date.

Wednesday, 29th January 2020, 4:46 pm
Updated Friday, 31st January 2020, 10:54 am
Councillors Stuart Marshall and Watson McAteer alongside one of Hawick's CCTV cameras.

That policy of managed decline would be a serious error of judgement, however, a former police chief is warning.

Members of Scottish Borders Council are being urged to approve a recommendation at their full meeting tomorrow, January 30, not to invest in the replacement of the region’s surveillance camera network because that would be too expensive.

The authority currently pays for the upkeep of 70 public-space CCTV cameras in Hawick, Galashiels, Kelso, Peebles, Eyemouth, Selkirk, Melrose and Duns monitored by the police, though 22 of them are out of order.

It’s being recommended that the equipment making up that network should not be renewed, a move set to spark opposition among councillors.

A report to councillors written by street lighting team leader Alex Young and signed off by Martin Joyce, the authority’s service director for assets and infrastructure, says: “The council currently meets all ongoing revenue costs, including energy consumption, telecoms charges, consumable items and annual charges from the contractors who provide maintenance support for each system.

“The police see CCTV as one tool that contributes to the perception of public security and the prevention and detection of crime, which reassures the public in areas that it is installed and adds to the overall community presence in that area.

“While the police are supportive of continuing CCTV provision within local communities, Police Scotland are not in a position to contribute to funding it in the Borders, either in terms of the initial capital investment or ongoing revenue costs.

“The council’s current position with regard to CCTV provision is not to install new CCTV equipment or replace life-expired systems but to continue to maintain current assets within the existing revenue budget until they are beyond economic repair.”

A public consultation over the future of CCTV coverage in the Borders was launched last year, with those responding calling for the cameras’ retention.

It is reckoned that replacing all the existing cameras with high-definition models connected to a high-capacity fibre-optic network would cost up to £680,000, an option not seen as financially viable.

Decommissioning the current network would also come at a price, estimated at £115,000, though.

A study cited in tomorrow’s report to councillors found that the majority of crime and antisocial behaviour in the eight Borders towns covered by CCTV cameras is committed outside the town centre areas they are pointed at.

The option recommended for approval tomorrow – to continue spending £44,000 a year to maintain the current CCTV network until it is broken beyond repair then rely on two mobile cameras currently being tried out by the police instead – has dismayed Hawick and Hermitage councillor Watson McAteer, a former police chief, and he is calling on his colleagues to reject it.

He said: “I am astounded and dismayed that council officers are recommending that future maintenance and replacement of CCTV should be abandoned on the basis of cost and a perceived lack of effectiveness.

“At a time of reducing police numbers and against the express wishes of the police and the public, this recommendation must be rejected by all councillors.

“Scottish Borders Council has a statutory role in providing community safety and wellbeing and, in my opinion, recommending removal of a vital tool that not only aids investigation but provides reassurance and comfort to communities is unforgivable.

“It is quite incredible that the council is happy to let individual communities take responsibility and fund this key service at their own expense while continuing support for an expanded police community action team.

“It’s ironic that some blame Police Scotland for not funding CCTV while being content to fund additional officers to carry out what should be core policing duties.

“I sincerely hope that all Scottish Borders councillors respect the wishes of those they represent and reject what I believe is a serious error of judgement.”

Tweedale East councillor Stuart Bell, together with Hawick and Hermitage’s George Turnbull, persuaded the council to review the costs and effectiveness of CCTV cameras here and consult the public, and he now believes it is time for the council to find the money to replace the present outdated system.

“In simple terms, the trouble is that the current CCTV is both worn out and technologically out of date, but it is costing the council money to keep it operating,” said Mr Bell.

“What has now been presented to us satisfies two of the three objectives. However, it fails to assess the effectiveness of the current system.

“Also, whilst the numbers are small, the responders to the consultation are clearly and strongly saying that they want to have a CCTV system, but, on the other hand, officers are suggesting that it is unaffordable. This is a dilemma.

“I think that what matters is that the council now makes a clear-cut decision.

“My own opinion is that, as councillors, we are elected to meet the needs of the public and I, personally, sit at too many community meetings hearing complaints about antisocial behaviour and vandalism where the perpetrators cannot be identified.

“In the town of Peebles that I represent, there have been repeated calls for a CCTV system that focuses on known trouble spots, and the council needs to now find the money to renew its outdated system.”

Another former police officer, Galashiels councillor Harry Scott, also believes the proposed policy is ill judged.

He said: “If the decision is taken to close the system down, it will be an abrogation of the council’s first duty to look after the health, welfare and safety of the people it serves.

“A survey carried out by the council last year shows that an overwhelming number of our constituents believe, and agree or strongly agree that having CCTV is an aid to the prevention and detection of crime and that they wish to keep it.

“The main report from the officers only mentions those who strongly agree, which conveys the impression that a much reduced number are arguing for it to be retained.”

Hawick and Denholm councillor Stuart Marshall added: “I think its absolute madness in this day and age to allow our CCTV systems to disappear altogether from our neighbourhoods.

“We, as a council, seem to find money at very short notice for other projects, and the sums involved in retaining this vital equipment is, in the grand scheme of things, paltry.

“I’m sure that the Borders public will once more be outraged when they learn that we are about to allow our CCTV network to collapse and disappear.

“Not only does this equipment serve as a vital deterrent for potential criminals, it also serves an important purpose in ensuring people feel safe in public spaces.”