Grantham Journal letter: CCTV and Meres were fine projects

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I read and totally concur with your Editor’s Comment and the article on page 14 (Journal, August 4) with regard to the immense value of Grantham’s CCTV, yet find the comparison in public attitude and opinion after two decades equally remarkable.

The most frequent question I am asked after 43 years as a district councillor (three years WKRDC, 40 years SKDC), is, ‘What do you consider to be your biggest achievement?’ The answer that most expect is the building of the Grantham Meres Leisure Centre, but I would argue that the inauguration of Grantham’s CCTV and the control centre at Alexander Road to be the greater.

I was the chairman of the committee that handled both of these extremely controversial issues. The leisure centre was being taken away from Grantham’s town centre, and CCTV was considered to be nothing more than a licence for Big Brother to snoop and look into bedroom windows.

The advent of CCTV in Grantham followed some years of research, investigation and consultation. This did not just involve the public, but I recall the police, British Rail, the NHS and many others were involved, some of whom actually offered to contribute to its cost, although I can’t recall any ever coming to fruition!

This was all undertaken by a small number of extremely dedicated SKDC officers and members, all of whom really did have to withstand the wrath and ire of a suspicious general public. Not only was this aspect disconcerting and often demoralising, but the town did not easily lend itself to such innovative development; Grantham is very linear (which has disadvantages in traffic management as well), in that it is some distance from North Parade to Gainsborough Corner, but one could almost throw a stone from Westgate to Castlegate, and the much more limited technology at the time did pose many problems that might not exist today.

Exactly the same difficulties arose when the brand new leisure centre was being considered at about the same time. The £9m scheme cost the SKDC council taxpayer just £250k, the remainder coming from the sale of the former site to Asda and £3m from the National Lottery, but again it was almost the same small band of dedicated officers and members who stood firm to give Grantham what is still the finest leisure complex in the East Midlands. I would ask the detractors from the scheme to look now, 20-odd years hence, and try to fit the Meres complex on to Union Street, let alone stage some of the incredible events that it has allowed SKDC to promote to Grantham’s benefit.

The moral of the story is this – there is little doubt in my view that had some of us not been bold all those years ago and gone ahead, often in the face of adverse public reaction and abuse, Grantham and a large area of Lincolnshire would not now have such superb protection of its streets, or leisure facilities that many large cities would dearly love to have. So the next time that SKDC do a consultation exercise, do attempt to look at the broader picture, not be parochial and do your level best to imagine what might be the situation 20 years hence and do not always consider change to be wrong.

Jeff Thompson, Belton Lane, Great Gonerby