Following the street protest on 23 July, 2006, on Birchwood Road in Birmingham [pics], where angry residents expressed their opposition to the installation of a CCTV camera on their road without any consultation with residents, there have been ongoing activities to demand the removal of the camera and extend the protest to other CCTV cameras in the city.
An anti-CCTV information leaflet was distributed to all residents shortly after the protest, then a petition was put together demanding the removal of the CCTV camera. Every house on Birchwood and Alder roads was called upon twice. Those who have been active against the camera were surprised at the number of residents opposed to the camera and their very good reasons for doing so. Almost everybody was dissatisfied that they had not been consulted about the camera going up. Moreover, activists are now trying to expose the businesses behind it.CCTV protest | Anti CCTV placards and banner | CCTV Protest in Balsall Heath Continues
A total of 81 houses were called upon in a survey conducted by the activists: 31 houses in Alder Road, 46 houses in Birchwood Road and 4 flats. 27 of these were empty when called upon and are therefore not represented. 32 residents were found to be against the CCTV camera, while 19 said they wanted to keep the CCTV camera but 11 of these indicated they would have wished to be consulted prior to its installation. Over 60% of the residents have signed a petition demanding the removal of the CCTV Camera.
The leaflet and the petition prompted the people who had some responsibility for installing the CCTV camera to organise a meeting at a local restaurant to answer questions and concerns and provide information about the camera. This took place at the Punjab Paradise on 12 September, 2006, and was well attended (see this report for details).
It's business, as usual
Since attending the above-mentioned meeting, five people from Birchwood Road attended the ward committee meeting and presented the petition. At the ward committee meeting, they asked about the information they had requested about the cost of CCTV cameras, but the Councillors made no direct response to this question other than giving a general response that "the issues would be addressed."
In view of this, and the fact that they have not heard back from Ms Becky Jones, Sparkbrook Ward Support Officer, they are now formally requesting that, as an officer of Birmingham City Council, Ms Jones provides them with this information under the Freedom of Information Act. This obliges her to provide the information within a limited time frame, and that it does not just apply to information that is otherwise available to the public. The information requested concerns the installation cost and projected running costs of the CCTV camera on Birchwood Road and clarification on what funding and resources have been and are to be used for this. It also asks for information on the number of CCTV cameras in the city of Birmingham, listing separately those which are solely used to monitor motor traffic (i.e. speed cameras and motorway cameras) as well as their installation and running costs, regardless of whether they are operated directly by the City Council, community organisations, such as Balsall Heath Forum, or the police.
At the Punjab Paradise meeting on 12 September, it was stated that the money for the CCTV camera on Birchwood Road came from Birmingham's Neighbourhood Renewal Fund (NRF). NRF is supposed to "make sure that people are not denied services and opportunities because of the neighbourhoods they live in. It is used to help neighbourhoods that suffer from poor housing and physical environments, crime, poor health, unemployment and education issues." This raises the question: what other community initiatives have missed out on NRF funding because of the expenditure on the CCTV camera on Birchwood Road? Also, why was it spent on CCTV without any consultation with the community if its cost has used up funds from the NRF, which is intended for community use?
It is worth mentioning that the CCTV camera sign on Birchwood Road bears the name "Elite Security" and telephone number "0121 706 7050", and that the person who was supposed to attend the Punjab Paradise meeting was Hugh Toland, the National Account Director for Remote Management and Security Ltd.
The activists rightly believe that CCTV is linked to gentrification and the corporate hijacking of high streets: "CCTV paves the way for corporations on our high streets," as one of them put it. So, it would be reasonable to end with a quote from PC Grant Moss, published on the Facilities UK website:
"The installation of this advanced security system has made the area a much safer place in which to shop," says PC Grant Moss, Crime Reduction and Architectural Liaison Officer based at Acocks Green Police Station. "The extra security is maintaining a downward trend in crime and making the area a more attractive proposition for major retailers such as Sainsburys, Costa Coffee and Subway."