Calls were today made for Blackpool to bring back live coverage of the town’s CCTV system – after it emerged neighbouring towns across Fylde and Wyre will protect their cameras from the axe.
Under a new five-year deal between Fylde and Wyre, a team of 16 volunteers will monitor 11 cameras in St Annes and Kirkham, as well as 28 cameras in Poulton, Fleetwood, Cleveleys and Garstang – towns with a fraction of the visitor numbers and crime of Blackpool.
Yet Blackpool’s 83 cameras, while they are switched on, are not being monitored prompting calls for a rethink .
Business owners and opposition councillors want the cash-strapped town hall – which is facing making cuts of more than £25m over the next 12 months – to find a way to bring back live monitoring to help boost public safety.
Craig Southall, chairman of Blackpool Pub Watch, said: “It is ridiculous a town like Blackpool with 13 million visitors coming through every year doesn’t have monitored CCTV and yet Poulton and St Annes do.
“Does Blackpool Council not believe this is an essential part of people’s safety?
“I would welcome any way of getting the CCTV manned again, whether that is through using volunteers or paying Wyre Council to run them.”
He added: “Fylde and Wyre have clearly decided manned CCTV is an essential part of keeping their residents safe, but Blackpool has decided it’s not essential for their residents, and then they wonder why people don’t want to come into the town centre at night.
“How many visitors does St Annes get compared to Blackpool? And if you compare the crime figures they are much higher for Blackpool.
“I think it is absolutely outrageous we don’t have manned CCTV in Blackpool and I think it’s something the council should be looking at again.”
Stephen Pierre, who owns the Galleon Bar on Abingdon Street and the Galleon Coffee Shop on Topping Street, said: “Of all the three boroughs, it’s Blackpool which needs manned CCTV the most.
“Blackpool has a busy night-time economy, as well as a lot of footfall during the day, and crime is are happening 24 hours a day.
“At the moment when there is an incident, the police spend their time going round traders begging for their CCTV.
“I think using volunteers is a good idea. For example there must be a fair amount of retired police officers who might want to give something back.
“Volunteers would have to be vetted, but I think that is the way forward.”
Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Tory opposition group on Blackpool Council, said he would welcome a mix of paid staff and volunteers to man CCTV.
He said: “The cost to go back to full monitoring isn’t that high.
“It would cost between £30,000 and £40,000 to pay two people to monitor the cameras and then use volunteers. I am sure businesses would contribute to that, but in the context of the whole council budget I’m sure savings could be found elsewhere.
“Volunteers would have to be well trained and meet data protection requirements.
“If Fylde and Wyre think it’s important enough then I think Blackpool should go back and look at this.”
Blackpool Council stopped monitoring its CCTV cameras in April 2013 as part of a package of savings which saw £187,600 slashed from the CCTV budget as part of total council cuts of £14.1m.
The town’s CCTV camera system, launched in 2001, had cost in the region of £1.5m to set up, and in 2009 it was costing £600,000 a year to operate.
Cameras were monitored round-the-clock seven days a week until the first cuts were made in 2011, and the number of CCTV operators was reduced from 11 to three as part of a £908,000 package of cuts covering parking and CCTV.
Monitoring was reduced to Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
A town hall scrutiny of the CCTV system found between April and September 2008, CCTV operators responded to 1,931 incidents.
Fylde will pay Wyre Council £52,000 a year to monitor its cameras.
Until last September, CCTV cameras in Fylde were still being monitored from a control room in Blackpool – almost 18 months after it had ceased monitoring cameras in the resort.
The arrangement was part of a five-year deal between the councils in Blackpool and Fylde – so monitoring of cameras in St Annes and Kirkham continued in April 2013 when Blackpool Council scrapped regular monitoring of its own CCTV cameras.
But the deal ended four months ago, leaving Fylde councillors with a dilemma.
They decided they wanted the CCTV to continue to be monitored and were courted by both Blackpool and Wyre councils.
A Fylde Council report reveals the Blackpool Community Safety Service approached the authority about the possibility of a new agreement as it looks at whether it might be possible to reinstate monitoring of some of the resort’s 83 cameras.
But they instead chose a partnership with Wyre, with the report concluding that ‘the uncertainties regarding sustainability and funding by Blackpool Council could leave the Fylde CCTV service at risk’.
The Gazette asked Blackpool Council for a response to calls to monitor the cameras.
Coun Gillian Campbell, the council’s cabinet member for public safety and enforcement, replied: “We’re continuing to explore various options in relation to CCTV.
“In the meantime, while they are not monitored round the clock, our CCTV cameras continue to record throughout the town centre and are available for the police to use for evidential purposes if needed.”
According to police figures all theft rose by 5.8 per cent across Lancashire, between April 2013 and March last year
But in Blackpool, where one in nine people were victims of crime, the number of offences went up by 10.7 per cent.
There were 1,616 reported cases of shoplifting in the resort – up from 1,457 the previous year.
Violence resulting in injury was at its highest level since 2009, with 2,285 cases recorded.