PLANS to recruit up to 2,000 people in Harrow to 'snoop' on their neighbours has been slammed by human rights groups and one resident who claims it reminds her of her youth in Apartheid South Africa.
Harrow Council this week announced that it will appoint and train a network of volunteers to report on nuisances like graffiti and fly-tipping in an apparent bid to deliver cleaner, safer streets.
But human rights groups like Liberty have slammed the ploy.
Sabina Frediani, campaigns co-ordinator at Liberty, said: “Everyone should feel able to report suspicions of crime without any special badge of approval from the local authority.
"But as the recent abuses of surveillance powers demonstrate, giving some citizens extra responsibilities is difficult and potentially dangerous. Civic duty is one thing but policing is best left to the professionals.”
It has been suggested that the initial costs of rolling out the scheme, vetting the so-called 'neighbourhood champions' and training them will cost more than £70,000 - but fees could spiral if the programme is deemed a success.
One South Harrow resident, who wished to remain anonymous, believes the money could have been spent more wisely, especially during the current economic climate.
She said: "This whole idea absolutely horrifies me.
"I think there are already enough ways for people to report things, why do we need to waste money on snooping on people.
"We have safer neighbourhood teams, neighbourhood watch schemes, councillors, a town centre police team, and numerous departments at the council to cover things like this. Why don't we just give them some money so they can do their job properly.
"It just seems like they are trying to shift responsibility on people not trained to do the job, who could very well have vendettas or problems with neighbours that they will be more than happy to shop."
The resident, who was raised in Apartheid South Africa, added that claims on websites that the scheme was akin to the work of the Stasi in East Germany added: "It may seem extreme but I think this kind of thing bears a resemblance to all of these regimes.
"In South Africa people were tracked and watched and others were encouraged to snitch on their friends or teachers and this is the way we are heading here.
"It is completely horrifying to think that we are continually being spied on, and ironic that our publicity hungry council has revealed the plan on the same week we celebrated the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall."
Despite reservations from residents on the scheme, the council has defended the idea and it is expected to be signed off at a cabinet meeting scheduled tonight (November 12) to begin in early 2010.
Councillor Susan Hall, responsible for environment services and community safety, said: "This is about extending more influence to our residents to help us deliver cleaner and safer streets.
"We have already invested in anti-social behaviour and cleaning teams, but the reality is that we are not always in a position to know when problems suddenly crop up.#
"I really believe the Neighbourhood Champions network will help us to deliver cleaner and safer streets. We often talk about the loss of community spirit in our neighbourhoods - I think this is a great way of reclaiming some of that."
The idea has also been backed by Chief Superintendent Dal Babu, Harrow Borough Commander, who added: "I welcome the Neighbourhood Champion scheme.
"Harrow's Neighbourhood Watch scheme is one of the largest in London and plays an important role working alongside police to fight crime.
"I am sure that the Neighbourhood Champion scheme will be equally successful in helping to make Harrow a better place."