COUNCILS in Hampshire could pay for 100 more police officers on the streets if they switched off their CCTV networks, it was claimed today.

The cost of operating each of Southampton’s extensive network of 1,030 cameras is on average £497, enough to pay for 16 officers.

New Forest District Council spent on average £6,718 operating each of its 81 cameras last year, a survey has revealed, the equivalent cost of 17 full-time constables.

A civil liberties watchdog today branded the CCTV networks overly intrusive and “out of control surveillance”.

Nick Pickles, from Big Brother Watch said there was “no credible evidence” that more cameras will reduce crime, yet the survey revealed that Hampshire councils had poured enough money into CCTV in just four years that would have put more than 100 extra police officers on the streets.

He added: “Surveillance is an important tool in modern policing but it is not a substitute for policing.

In too many cities across the country every corner has a camera but only a few ever see a police officer.”

Figures compiled through Freedom of Information Act requests revealed that Southampton spent £2.4m in the past four years on its network of 1,030 cameras.

Other Hampshire councils spent more than Southampton on fewer cameras.

New Forest District council spent £2.6m on 81 cameras and Fareham spent £1m on 41 cameras.

Test Valley council spent £464,899 on just 17 cameras and Eastleigh council spent £697,137 on 158. Portsmouth said it spent £2.5m on a network of 143 “open spaces” cameras, but said it had nearer 1,500 cameras in total.

Winchester council said it spent £1.6m but refused to state how many cameras it operated, as they are run privately.

John Apter from the Hampshire Police Federation, which represents frontline officers, said: “In order to have effective CCTV systems you have got to have the ability of police to respond to what’s happening at that moment.

With more and more money being drained from police budgets, you’ve probably got a very expensive and elaborate CCTV network that looks good but has no substance.”

Southampton City Council leader Cllr Royston Smith, said the authority had a core network of around 253 centrally monitored CCTV cameras keeping a watch on the city, with around 30 more traffic cameras, that could soon be run privately.

Others are located in public buildings including schools.

“A policeman couldn’t be in all the places a camera can. The cameras that are monitored allow us to send resources to areas where there is trouble. We wouldn’t be able to use that money on police.”

New Forest District Council said it was “very proud” of its network which was driven by local demand. It said it had helped police solve crime, deter would-be criminals and made residents and visitors feel safe.

A spokeswoman said the cost of leasing the cable network connecting the cameras was higher than other councils due to the large geographical area of the district, but the council was looking at further ways to make the system more affordable.