Ugly camera poles may have to go
By RYAN TAYLOR
A revolt against three large, unslightly black poles designed to hold some of the cameras in Lerwick’s CCTV system may lead to their being taken down, it emerged this week.
The poles, which are located on Victoria Pier, next to the small boat harbour and near the Fort chip shop, were erected by contractor Scotshield because, they said, existing lamp-posts were unsuitable because they moved back and fore in strong winds leading to distorted images.
But, with the cameras due to start rolling at the end of the month, officials are unhappy as the planning consents specified that the cameras should be fixed to lamp-posts.
SIC service manager John Holden said: “We understand the existing poles would whip too much in the wind, so the CCTV columns need to be stronger.
“But that’s not what planning consent was given on the basis of. We were giving approval on the basis they were to be attached to the existing lighting columns.
“We don’t consider that the change can be dealt with by a minor variation to the existing permission, but we are suggesting there is perhaps scope to get something more environmentally acceptable.”
He said much of the criticism which had been levelled at the new columns had concerned the wide diameter of the base, which many had found rather cumbersome.
The base is deliberately wide so that it can house the camera’s power unit, however Mr Holden said a smaller box separate from a thinner pole, and perhaps attached to the wall, could be a way round the problem.
“There is a meeting being arranged for next week to discuss a way forward and allow everybody concerned to get together.”
As well as planning officials, the meeting will be attended by members of the council’s community safety, roads and capital projects. Representatives from Scotshield are also expected to attend.
Local architect and member of the Lerwick old town development association, Richard Gibson, said the poles needed to be brought down because they were “not in accordance with the planning application”.
He said the application showed the cameras mounted on lamp posts, which he described as “a lesser evil” when compared with the newly erected columns.
Mr Gibson, who is also a member of the town centre association, was critical of CCTV in general.
He said the level of surveillance provided by the network of 14 cameras – which will span from Faerdie Maet to the bottom of Harbour Street – was far too much for Lerwick.
“It’s another bit of clutter as far as I’m concerned. Cameras are not something I’m in sympathy with. It’s a tremendous amount of surveillance. I’ve heard we’re going to be the most surveyed people in Europe.”
His comments were backed by the association’s chairman, Laurence Smith, who said the poles would be an eye-sore for visitors to the town.
Mr Smith has previously been quoted as being in support of CCTV, however this week he said the bye-law banning alcohol consumption in the town centre should have been enough to curb anti-social behaviour.
“My personal opinion is it’s a bad sign of life in Shetland that it has come to this. I was always in favour of the ban on drinking of alcohol in public places, and I understand that has made quite a difference to the number of incidents in the area.
“That should have been introduced and then the whole thing re-evaluated. What image is this going to present to folk coming off the yachts or the liners in the summer?
“We probably all thought they would be inconspicuous, but these things are a monstrosity.”
He added that there had been a lack of consultation from the council over the cameras and the poles.
“You would think that as a community group we would have been consulted more. You would think we might have got a map showing where these cameras would be situated, but there has been nothing.”
Introducing CCTV cameras on the street has been less than straightforward, with councillors first speaking about setting up a system some years ago.
Their plans gained momentum in 2003 when police launched an attempted murder investigation following a vicious street attack on North Nesting man Malcolm Symington, who had to be flown to Aberdeen by air ambulance for treatment.
Almost six years later, and despite interviewing over 100 people, police have still not charged anyone in connection with the assault.
Since then however, crime on the street has been pretty minor in comparison, prompting some to question whether the £200,000 fee for Scotshield was really value for money.
Installation also faced delays because of ongoing planning issues.
Originally approved by the SIC’s planning committee over a year ago, the cameras had to sit in waiting because many of the shops and businesses on which they were due to be erected are classed as listed buildings.
As a result the SIC had to run its plans past Historic Scotland, which caused a number of delays.
Mr Holden said he did not know if the latest changes would lead to a further delay in the cameras’ installation.