‘Catastrophic failure risk if no CCTV upgrade’

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The ageing analogue CCTV system covering Central Bedfordshire looks set to be replaced at a cost of around £640,000 to the taxpayer.

Central Beds councillors met today and backed the digital upgrade of the near obsolete equipment for wireless HD cameras to improve image quality and reduce signal transmission costs.

The CCTV system has been introduced in stages since 1995, but the last significant investment was pre-2009, the year when Central Beds Council was formed.

A report by Executive Member for Community Services, Cllr Brian Spurr, to Thursday’s sustainable communities overview & scrutiny committee stated that if a replacement system is not approved then the only other possible option is to stop providing CCTV.

That would mean decommissioning the entire system within the next 12 to 18 months, at a cost of £208,000.

Cllr Spurr’s report states: “The council’s infrastructure is now at the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced. Trying to maintain the current system poses a significant risk of an unexpected catastrophic failure that we cannot make any realistic contingency plans for.

“Terminating the council’s CCTV provision poses unknown risks in terms of the impact on crime and disorder, safeguarding and general community safety.

“Investing in CCTV will deliver revenue savings, utilise more flexible technology allowing for a CCTV service to be delivered in any area across Central Bedfordshire where there is a pressing need, and open up the opportunity to develop new services leading to additional income streams which may, over time, enable the service to become self funding.”

The council currently has 129 cameras operating and monitored from the control room based at Watling House, Dunstable. There are a further 10 cameras monitored around the Watling House offices, 19 cameras are recorded locally at the Leighton Buzzard multi-storey car park, and 12 cameras are monitored by the Hertfordshire CCTV Partnership in Stevenage on behalf of CBC for the Biggleswade, Sandy and Shefford areas.

The typical rental of a fibre cable for one camera per year is £1,000, which would be saved by a move to wireless technology.

Cllr Spurr said: “A wireless system links cameras to a hub points locally where images are stored. Potential hub locations – mostly existing council buildings - have been identified in all the major towns where cameras are currently located. Storing information locally allows for only data actually needed it a particular moment to be transmitted back to the control room, thereby reducing costs.

“HD cameras capture significantly more detail than standard analogue cameras. Images can be magnified up to four times which has benefits when trying to confirm vehicle index numbers or identify a suspect.”

Cllr Spurr added: “The system is now at full capacity and key elements are nearing the end of their useful life, with manufacturers indicating they will be withdrawing technical support from some in the near future.”

The report recommends the new control room is set up at Chicksands’ Priory House. But Cllr Spurr states: “Discussions about the longer term future of Watling House continue and decisions about its future may well impact on the location of the CCTV control room. But in view of the end of life challenges, the decisions about the CCTV systems future need to be made outside of any timescales for decisions about Watling House.”

The scrutiny committee’s support for the upgrade will be reported to the Executive which will debate the issue on April 4.