Cambridge: Security CCTV System

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The Safer Cambridge Steering Committee's 400,000 bid for 34 cameras to the Home Office succeeded, with the City (private + public bodies) due to contribute 200,000. The City Council contributed 125,000, the Home Office gave 169,000, the Police contributed 20,000 and the County Council 5,000. The scheme was due to begin in July 1997, after refurbishment of a disused canteen in the Guildhall basement, but was delayed until late August.

In the first month of operation it caught 51 suspects and helped reduce the number of reported crimes by about a third. In March 1998 it was due to be extended to Drummer Street Bus Station.

Cambridge has needed a CCTV scheme for years and there's been plenty of support for one; much smaller towns had them already - Bury St Edmunds being a recent example. But what happened? A prolonged wrangle centred on the City Council, at least now resolved.

A Cambridge Evening News article (2-Apr-96) cited some crime statistics for the centre:

The dominant Labour group on the City Council insisted the project be funded jointly by the private and public sectors (though other, smaller, towns have had no problem funding schemes publicly).

The Chairman of the private sector CCTV Fund-Raising Committee, Steve Moody, had a letter in the Cambridge Evening News on January 22nd 1996, expressing his amazement at the accusations made by Kevin Southernwood (Labour), leader of the City Council, that the private sector was being slow in raising funds for the scheme, expressed in letters to the CEN on January 8th and 16th. Steve Moody went on to explain that the campaign was expected to last 12 months, starting from 16-Oct-1995, and aimed to raise 75,000. City businesses and colleges had already contributed 41,000. By August 1996 one in 10 City centre traders had contributed, amounting to 64,000.

Kevin Southernwood's letter on the 16th said that the City was prepared to invest 75,000 but mostly emphasised the need for genuine local partnership in submitting a bid for Home Office funding, the first such bid having been rejected. He went on to point out that realistic running costs needed to be fitted into next year's budget, since the City Council will have the responsibility for operating it.

The Finance and General Committee voted to allow 140,000 for running costs, improving the chances of a Home Office grant. The Liberal Democrats objected, saying that others, such as the Police Authority, should share the costs.

Coun. David Howarth's (leader, Lib. Dem.) letter (CEN 6-Feb-1996) explained that the Liberal Democrats fully support the CCTV scheme, including ensuring the information gathered is held securely, but want to ensure the running costs are properly covered. They supported the original 35,000 budget estimate but feel that an additional 140,000 is too much for the City Council alone. He went on to point out that fighting crime is primarily the Police Authority's role, the City Council having a secondary role. He also pointed out that the main benefit of CCTV is in identifying criminals and providing good evidence in court - a major help to the Police.

Most people would say the main benefit is in making people feel safer.

Eight of the 34 cameras need planning permission as they're on Listed buildings and English Heritage originally asked that the cameras be disguised in some way (e.g. as lamps). This would make them less effective, particularly as a deterrent. The Council & EH compromised by agreeing unopposed temporary planning permission, with a review in three years.

Taxi drivers are hoping that CCTV will make their work safer, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights. Sometimes thay've had to avoid the City centre then, fearing attacks, even though they're the only two really good trading nights.

Mill Road traders were worried about the knock-on effects of reduced crime in the City Centre - displacement to Mill Road. These fears seem to have been justified and in 1999 the Council agreed to extend CCTV to Mill Road. It's also being extended to the multistorey car parks.

(CEN 23-Jan-96, 2-Apr, 21-Jun, 14-Aug, 15-Oct, 6-Jan-97, 9-Jun, 26-Sep)