This matter is the responsibility of Executive Councillor Chris Booth, Portfolio Holder for Community.
This is an information report to update on capital investment to replace 11 CCTV cameras in the ‘spine’ of Taunton’s CCTV network from junction of Staplegrove Road with North Street, through Bridge Street, Fore Street and East Street.
Executive Cllr Chris Booth introduced the item as Portfolio Holder for Community.
This is an information report to update on capital investment to replace 11 CCTV cameras in the ‘spine’ of Taunton’s CCTV network from junction of Staplegrove Road with North Street, through Bridge Street, Fore Street and East Street. There is an earmarked reserve of £60K set aside for work on the CCTV project, which would involve an upgrade from analogue to digital cameras, and improve the data produced.
Scott Weetch presented the report to the Committee which outlined four possible options for the future of CCTV in the Taunton Town Centre, including a “do nothing” approach. There were a variety of delivery mechanisms for CCTV across the district, which made it difficult to adopt a one size fits all assessment. Partners included Sedgemoor District Council who had a service level agreement with the former TDBC, and Avon and Somerset Police. In Minehead and Watchet, the CCTV was monitored solely by volunteers and the numbers have been depleted due to Covid and other factors. This has reduced resilience in the systems.
Comments from the Committee included: -
· Dismay and frustration at the length of time the strategy has taken to be delivered. It was apparent that the service level agreements with partners such as Sedgemoor District Council (SDC) had not been upheld and this was detrimental to the life and resources of the existing CCTV systems in Taunton. Residents and the night-time economy had been let-down by the failures in the system, and some such as the street pastors did not feel safe going about their duties knowing the cameras may not be working.
· Fear of crime is rising not reducing, and lack of CCTV and safeguarding reinforces those fears.
· There have been failings in the systems in Taunton, but due to changes in the administrations between Sedgemoor DC and SWT, these have been challenging to unpick. The previous management regime at Sedgemoor agreed to maintain and upgrade the CCTV as needed, via a Service Level Agreement, but this was not upheld. Unfortunately, this was not made apparent until just before Covid, so was difficult to challenge. Therefore, SWT had to re-assess the entire CCTV network, which meant going back to basics and checking all hardware, software, and data. It was very quickly realised that the Taunton cameras had not been maintained to a suitable standard. Unfortunately, due to the challenges presented by Covid, there had been insufficient monitoring to note this problem earlier.
· Avon and Somerset Police used to run a volunteer scheme out of the Minehead Police Station which monitored the CCTV coverage on a rota basis throughout West Somerset (Minehead and Watchet). Due to Covid and other factors, there is now only 1 volunteer left working with the system.
· It was asked if anyone had contacted the Avon and Somerset Police Crime Commissioner, regarding attracting some extra funding to support these initiatives.
· Cllr Lloyd asked if Wellington Town Council still contributed to the maintenance of the CCTV equipment. If this has stopped, when did this happen? Referred to the Written Answer Tracker for a response.
· Cllr Pritchard asked how many successful prosecutions have resulted from the use of CCTV cameras? This information will need to be obtained from Sedgemoor District Council. Referred to the Written Answer Tracker for a response. The point was also raised that at present SWT feels that the level of reporting is not sufficient to provide a response, but it is hoped this can be improved and made publicly available on the council’s website.
· The Committee was reminded that the use of CCTV was not just to reduce crime, but also to look for missing persons and safeguard the vulnerable.
· Welfare and Suicide prevention – some cameras were focussed in areas to alert the emergency services of potential suicide risks. One such, was the multi-storey car park. Another location was the O-Bridge viaduct but unfortunately there was a lack of street furniture and electrical supply to facilitate the siting of a camera. These risks are regularly assessed and monitored. SWT is currently still waiting on Sedgemoor to provide information on moveable/portable cameras to see if this would be a feasible option for areas such as the O Bridge.
· Privacy Impact Assessments – This checks how often the cameras are used and monitored and what they are looking at. Legally, the cameras are only focussed on public realm/spaces and there are strict laws on privacy and usage. (Can’t look into windows or homes). The data is held securely and must be relevant. The system is not yet capable of artificial imaging or facial recognition software. The camera imaging is basic analogue only.
· It was asked what systems of CCTV are currently used in the other Somerset districts: South Somerset’s system is managed by Sedgemoor District Council, whilst Mendip operates an independent stand-alone system.
· Why only £60K allocated? The budget of £60k has been earmarked from the current reserve and there is no further identified funding.
· Some of the money will be used to improve compliance of the CCTV system in Taunton. Amongst other things this will upgrade the existing signage which will be out of date very soon, and continuous reviews are needed to ensure SWT satisfies the Information Commissioner requirements at regular intervals. (Data protection). Compliance relates to the need for a camera to be sited where it is, as well as ongoing monitoring to ensure that the information captured is relevant and stored appropriately.
· The current cameras have a shelf life of 5-6 years and were installed nearly 20 years ago. They are long past their user dates. As Sedgemoor have now upgraded to digital receivers, and the SWT cameras are operating on analogue, there is a disconnect between transferring the images/ the systems communicating with each other.
· Cllr Whetlor expressed disappointment in the level of CCTV service in Watchet. Agreed to have an off-line conversation with officers outside the meeting.
The Chair recognised that there had been considerable frustration and challenge around the delay in bringing the report forward to Committee. From the comments made the Committee appeared supportive of the report and the work being undertaken. The current report only dealt with the Taunton Town Centre however, and this was an item that would need to be progressed through the new unitary council in the future and rolled out to all our communities.
The Committee unanimously voted to approve the report.
7.10pm Scott Weetch and Sally Parry left the meeting.