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7th March 2006
Minutes of the Special Meeting of Council held on Tuesday 7 March 2006 at 7.30 p.m. in the Council Chamber, Council Offices, 47 Derry Road, Strabane.
Present: - In the Chair: Councillor B McMahon
Other Members: Councillors I Barr, A Bresland, D Breslin, J Donnell, J Emery, G Foley, D Hussey, T McBride, K McGuire, C McHugh, E McMenamin, J McNulty, J O’Kane
Total = 14
In Attendance: Clerk & Chief Executive, Chief Building Control Officer, Administrative Assistant,
Angela Hughes - Omagh Safer Streets,
Liam O’Neill - Western Group Building Control Service
Apologies: Councillor T Kerrigan
The Chairman welcomed Members and staff to the meeting and invited Ms Hughes to make her presentation to Council.
Omagh Safer Streets - CCTV
Ms Angela Hughes had attended the meeting to make a presentation to Members on Closed Circuit Television (CCTV). She noted that she worked for the Omagh Business Forum which provided a management and administrative function to Omagh Safer Streets Ltd. She clarified that the purpose of the presentation was not to claim an expertise in the field of CCTV but to relay their experiences of operating the system. She outlined areas of discussion that she would refer to which included: the background to CCTV in Omagh; features of the system; costs involved; codes of practice; evaluation; radio link systems and the future challenges.
She said that CCTV was one of the aspects of wider community measures in relation to community safety within Omagh. She noted that a consultation process had been undertaken with the community and general public and that 98% of those consulted felt that they would feel safer with CCTV in operation. She advised that, in the aftermath of the Omagh bomb in 1998, there was a public perception that the town centre was not safe and a wide section of the community were not using the town. She also referred to the high level of security alerts, which had economic consequences for businesses.
Councillor McGuire joined the meeting at this point. (7.35 p.m.)
Ms Hughes outlined the background to CCTV and advised that Omagh Safer Streets Ltd, which was driven by the business community, had been established in 1998 and was a cross community initiative. She noted that the limited company was VAT registered and had charitable status. She referred to funding received from the Police Association of Northern Ireland (PANI), Omagh LSP and Omagh District Council in addition to private sector contributions. She reported that there were 9 board members consisting of 3 Councillors, 3 community representatives and 3 business representatives. She added that other advisors included the Omagh Business Forum and the PSNI who advised on an ongoing basis but had no decision making powers.
Councillor Foley joined the meeting at this point. (7.40 p.m.)
She said that the provision of CCTV had a controversial nature, as some seen it as an infringement of their civil liberties. She acknowledged that CCTV did have limitations and that it needed public, commercial, statutory and political support and had to be seen as independent of policing and politics. She advised that the operation of CCTV in Omagh was sub contracted out to a third party and operated from an independent monitoring facility. She said that it was a complex mechanical and electrical system and it was important to buy in the expertise in relation to the location of cameras, the types of cameras and the overall technology for operating the system. She noted that fibre optic lines were currently leased and were very expensive. She said that Broadband would be cheaper but the quality of pictures could not be guaranteed.
Ms Hughes outlined the features of the CCTV system, which had been in operation since December 2001. The features of the system included: 9 cameras covering the key hotspots which had been identified through crime statistics; 24/7 recording; night vision; control room; monitoring carried out by the independent firm Lisburn Securities.
She reported on the capital costs for the installation of the system, which included the costs of equipment, fibre optics, premises, mechanical and electrical consultancy and miscellaneous items e.g. NIE equipment. She noted that the total expenditure was £193,000. She outlined the breakdown of funding obtained to meet those costs. She said that the biggest challenge was the ongoing running costs including the lease of fibre optics lines, monitoring costs and general overheads, which amounted to £50,000. She outlined the funding received for revenue costs, which they tried to source locally.
Ms Hughes reported that the system was covered by a Code of Practice, which came from the Data Protection Act 1988. She outlined the key areas covered, which included: privacy, accountability, assessment of the system, control and operation of cameras, access to monitoring room and the management of recorded material. She noted that video recordings were only retained for one month in accordance with the Data Protection Act and the tapes were erased if they had not been requested within that timescale. She noted that it was only a master copy of a tape that could be used in court and, following a request, the relevant master copy would be appropriately sealed for this purpose. She said that there were very structured procedures regarding the monitoring and handling of video recordings and she referred to the restricted access of the monitoring room and the confidentiality forms that had to be signed. She clarified who could access the tapes and the identification process undertaken in addition to the exemptions relating to criminal prosecutions. She noted that the system had to be registered with the Information Commissioner’s office. She advised that signage relating to the operation of CCTV also had to be displayed in the town centre.
Ms Hughes reported on the evaluation of the system undertaken within 4 key areas including crime records, operational effectiveness, the perceptions of the public and businesses and the recommendations from the review. She said that the key findings included a 19% reduction in reported incidents of crime; a 20% reduction in recordings of theft; a reduction in assaults or public disorder. She said that it was generally felt that CCTV was a deterrent to criminal activity in the town centre.
She outlined the effectiveness of the scheme from an operational perspective and advised that there was an increased awareness of the CCTV system in the town centre. She noted that 56% of those interviewed felt that CCTV had acted as a deterrent to crime. She added that there was a general feeling of safety from the businesses and the public, which had led to an increase in usage of the town centre.
Ms Hughes reported that the recommendations from the evaluation were to continue the system and hopefully extend the monitoring services. It was important however to meet the challenge to find sufficient revenue funding to continue the operation. She noted other recommendations relating to reviewing the locations in cases of displacement of crime and further promoting the initiative as a wider community safety strategy.
She outlined the proposals for the future, which were to continue the operation of CCTV, to secure long-term revenue funding, to extend the system to include another 7 cameras and to provide a monitoring service for other towns.
Ms Hughes referred to the Radio Link system, which was another community safety measure, operated by Omagh Safer Streets. She advised that the system enabled users to communicate quickly and effectively to exchange important information. She noted that there were 40 radios currently in operation within businesses in Omagh. She felt that the radio link initiative fully complemented the CCTV system.
She thanked Council for affording her the time to make the presentation which she hoped had been helpful in clarifying some of the issues.
The Chairman thanked Ms Hughes for the comprehensive presentation. He informed Members that their questions should be based on the information provided and discussion should relate to the pros and cons of the system. He said that it was not the time to debate whether CCTV should be operated in Strabane. He invited queries and questions from Members.
Councillor McNulty thanked Ms Hughes for the presentation. He raised the following issues:
· Direct input from Omagh Council
· Discussions/responsibility at board level
· Established objectives
· Consultation process
Ms Hughes said that the role of the Board was to manage the operation and make decisions relating to the system including financial decisions. She said that they had clear objectives to meet. She said that there were a number of aspects to the consultation process. She added that the Omagh Chamber of Commerce had consulted the business community and the community and voluntary organisations and the wider public were consulted by Focus.
Councillor Emery welcomed Ms Hughes and thanked her for the presentation. He raised the following issues:
· Success of the Omagh initiative
· Personnel levels
· Complaints about the system
Ms Hughes reported that Omagh Safer Streets Ltd did not employ staff and they had a service level agreement with Omagh Business Forum for her and an administrator. She said that she was not aware of any complaints received regarding the system.
Councillor McBride welcomed Ms Hughes. He raised the following issues:
· Part of wider community safety brief
· Levels of acceptability towards CCTV systems
· Bus transportation from town centre
Ms Hughes referred to the increased awareness of the system and she felt that there was a general acceptance that it provided a valuable service in terms of safety. She appreciated that there were other aspects such as good lighting that also contributed to the feeling of safety. She noted that funding had been obtained for a pilot programme to transport people out of the town centre by bus at night. She said that it was operated by Translink and was very effective. She noted that, despite a slow start, the weekly figures provided to them showed that the use of the service was increasing.
Councillor McMenamin welcomed Ms Hughes. He raised the following issues:
· Useful concept of radio link system - lease/hire of radios
· Cost of running CCTV and use of broadband or other more cost effective technology
· Audio facility on tapes
· Production of video footage in courts
Ms Hughes confirmed that Omagh Safer Streets leased the radios for £22 a month. She noted that they had no difficulty in obtaining 40 users and it was hoped to extend the number of users. She said that they had been advised that there was a low level of cases going to court, which involved video footage which was no doubt due to admissions of guilt by offenders once they had seen the tapes. She said that she did not think that audio sound was available on the tapes. She confirmed that they were looking into alternative options regarding broadband and wireless connection.
Councillor Hussey joined the meeting at this point. (8.10 p.m.)
Councillor Barr welcomed Ms Hughes and thanked her for the presentation. He raised the following issues:
· Revenue costs
· Sharing monitoring facilities with Strabane and impact regarding revenue costs
· Long term concerns on the provision of CCTV being cost prohibitive
· Contributions from private sector
· Worthwhile asset for reasons of protection
· Promotion of CCTV footage through television shows
Ms Hughes referred to assaults being recorded and shown on television shows. She added that there had been a number of examples in Omagh where CCTV had been very effective in terms of the deployment of resources. She said that meeting the running costs was a challenge every year. She referred to contributions from businesses and said that the amount payable was calculated on the basis of the rateable value of the business property. She noted that payments were made on a monthly basis via direct debit. She advised that maintenance costs would increase as the cameras aged and would eventually have to be renewed. She said that currently, they had sufficient capacity to consider sharing the monitoring aspect of CCTV in Strabane.
Councillor Bresland welcomed Ms Hughes and thanked her for the presentation. He raised the following issue:
· Monitoring range of CCTV within various towns
Ms Hughes reported that there was no restriction in the range of CCTV monitoring equipment as it was undertaken via fibre optics. She noted that Enniskillen had approached them concerning monitoring possibilities.
Councillor McGuire left the meeting at this point. (8.20 p.m.)
Councillor Breslin appreciated Ms Hughes taking the time to make the presentation. He raised the following issues:
· Location of monitoring room – neutral venue
· Maintenance of cameras after 5-7 years: motors, lenses etc
· Evidence of towns removing cameras as costs could not be met
· How much of a deterrent was CCTV given the overall reduction in crime
· Street lighting could also be used as a deterrent
· Displacement of criminal behaviour from town centres to neighbouring residential areas
· Insecurities of CCTV footage through broadband/wireless connections
Ms Hughes confirmed that the monitoring room was at a neutral facility, which was leased by Omagh Safer Streets. She added that it was not located at a police station and it was civilian staff that operated the system. She said that the programme was into its 6th year in Omagh and, funding permitting, they hoped that the system would continue its operation. She referred to the reduction in crime and acknowledged that CCTV was only one aspect but felt that all contributions were welcomed to promote community safety. She advised that the videotapes were erased after one month and that the tapes were re-used. She noted that she had never received a complaint about the quality of the tapes. She said that the lenses of the cameras were constantly monitored and problems or faults were reported to the maintenance contractors to ensure quality. She advised that they had approached a company to provide various options regarding alternatives to the use of fibre optics.
Councillor Donnell welcomed Ms Hughes and thanked her for the presentation. He raised the following issues:
· Support of multi nationals to the scheme
· How many towns in Northern Ireland (NI) had CCTV
Ms Hughes confirmed that they did receive contributions from multi nationals. She noted however that a more recent influx had been located in areas, which were currently not covered by CCTV. She said that it was proposed to expand the system to other areas. She referred to a number of towns which she was aware had CCTV but was unclear of the total number of towns within NI with the facility.
Councillor Hussey apologised for his lateness and for missing the presentation. He raised the following issue:
· The possibility of incorporating the private external CCTV systems of businesses with that of Omagh Safer Streets
Ms Hughes said that she was not sure if this was a possibility. She felt that consideration would probably have to be given to the individual policies of the businesses concerned. She added that, as some of the external systems at premises were used for basic recording, data protection would not have to be complied with. She said that there may be some legislative requirements that would mean that integration would not be easily achieved.
The Chairman thanked Ms Hughes for the presentation.
Councillor McMenamin left the meeting at this point. (8.30 p.m.)
Any Other Business
The Chief Executive (CE) reported that he had to leave the meeting to attend another function and the Chief Building Control Officer (CBCO) would be in attendance. He gave his apologies to Mr O’Neill for not being able to stay for his presentation.
Townsend Street Garden
The CE reported that the work on the proposed Townsend Street garden would commence shortly and be completed by the end of March. He advised that Kevin O’Kane Landscaping would be the contractor and that Groundwork NI would give a presentation to the Melvin Reference Group the following week.
Melvin Photocall – Department of Social Development (DSD) Funding
The CE informed Members that a photocall to mark the DSD funding would take place at Melvin Hall on 9 March 2006 at 3.45 p.m. He noted that a Minister would be in attendance for the photocall. He apologised for the short notice of the photocall and hoped that Members could attend.
Use of Score Site – St. Patrick’s Day Parade
Councillor McNulty reported that a number of Community Groups were seeking to use the Score Site as an assembly point for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. He noted that the Community Support Officer was checking the issue of insurance and risk assessment of the site.
On the proposal of Councillor McNulty, seconded by Councillor Foley it was agreed that Council write to DSD to support the use of the Score Site for this purpose.
Councillor McBride queried when Council would debate the issue of CCTV given that the deadline for funding opportunities was 31 March 2006.
Following a discussion, the CE said that he would liaise with the Business Manager and report back to Council on a proposed date for the debate.
The CE left the meeting at this point. (8.35 p.m.)
Western Group Building Control Service
The Chairman welcomed Mr Liam O’Neill, Group CBCO who had attended the meeting to present the Western Group’s Annual Report for the period April 2004 to March 2005.
Mr O’Neill outlined his role as Group CBCO who reported to the Group Committee in relation to the co-ordination and monitoring of the provision of building control services within and between Councils in the Western division. He referred to his statutory duties to report annually to the Constituent Councils on the services provided by Group Building Control staff to Councils.
He advised Members on the co-ordination of building control services within the Western Group through the statutory Group system and the non-statutory Panel system. He outlined the structure of the Group Committee, Group Liaison and District Liaison meetings and noted that Group and District Liaison meetings had been amalgamated since March 2005, which had assisted with the delivery of the co-ordination of services.
He further outlined the co-ordination of the service on a NI basis with Group Committees, Group Chief Forums, Central Panel and Satellite Panels. He noted that the work of the panels over the last year had been hindered by the lack of activity and queries relating to the legal entity of the panels. In summary, he said that the aim across all 26 Councils was to develop and maintain a consistent high quality Building Control service across NI.
Mr O’Neill noted that Alan Gibson, Principal Building Control Officer had prepared the section of the report related to monitoring, which outlined the programme within the Western Group in addition to Inter-Group monitoring. He said that Mr Gibson had worked closely with Councils and he referred to the breakdown of plans and inspections audited as outlined in the appendices to the report. He commended him and all Building Control colleagues within Councils who helped to deliver the monitoring programme which he noted was now used as a model within other Groups.
Mr O’Neill advised Members that the Group had 2 technical staff and that he continued to provide a structural checking facility for the constituent Councils. He noted that 94% of assessments were carried out in house. He referred to the percentage of work breakdown for the support programmes provided by Mr Gibson.
Councillor McNulty left the meeting at this point. (8.45 p.m.)
Mr O’Neill said that the Western Group was a small unit with 2 technical staff and 2 administrative staff on a job share providing a range of services for 5 Councils and on a NI basis. He outlined the key issues of resourcing and performance, which would be faced over the next few years. He added that there would be considerable resource implications arising from the review and amendments to the Building Regulations. He added that the amount of time spent on assessment would be increased. He also referred to the implications of the Review of Public Administration (RPA) and said that it would inevitably impact on the delivery of Building Control services. He advised Members of the statutory duty of Councils to ensure that Building Regulations were enforced in their area.
Mr O’Neill thanked Council for facilitating the presentation of the report.
The Chairman said that the work of the Group was very much appreciated. He invited queries and comments from Members.
Councillor Hussey thanked Mr O’Neill for the report and noted the appreciation of all the work undertaken by the Group and the Council’s CBCO and his staff. He raised the following issue:
· Responsibilities of existing businesses to be compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)
Mr O’Neill said that the onus was on members of the public to make complaints regarding the non-compliance of the DDA regulations. He acknowledged that the issue of control regarding these regulations was contentious.
Councillor McBride welcomed Mr O’Neill. He raised the following issues:
· Resource implications for Council on future challenges and the requirements of competency to be maintained
· University courses for building control
The CBCO felt that Council would have difficulties in meeting future challenges. He referred to recent recruitment problems within the Building Control department and noted that a position had been filled at a trainee level. He felt that Building Regulations were becoming more complex and that, combined with the lack of university graduates in this field, the prospect of Council fulfilling its statutory obligations would be problematic. He felt that there was a need for the Group Chiefs to be liaising with the Department and the Universities on this issue. He advised that, following a survey across the Building Control departments of the 26 Councils, it was felt that there would be a vacuum, with Officers leaving as a result of the RPA.
Mr O’Neill said that the resource implications would be considerable. He noted that the Building Control field was quite specialised and there was no dedicated form of training for Building Control officers.
The Chairman thanked Mr O’Neill for presenting the Annual Report to Council.
The meeting concluded at 8.55 p.m.
DATED this 7th day of MARCH 2006
Clerk & Chief Executive
DATED this 11th day of APRIL 2006
Chairman of the Council