The £510,000 closed-circuit television system, made possible by a £460,000 grant from the Home Office, will use 63 cameras sited in Aldershot, Farnborough and North Camp in an effort to reduce crime in the borough.

At the opening ceremony Rushmoor Council's chief executive Andrew Lloyd said the system would be in operation 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The new surveillance scheme, which Mr Lloyd described as "state-of-the-art", is a fully digital system and will cost £110,000 a year to run.

Footage from the CCTV cameras will be watched in a new viewing suite at the council offices.

The control room will have radio contact with the police and shop security teams in an effort to co-ordinate the fight against crime.

Anxious to avoid talk that the introduction of the new system would result in some kind of Orwellian Big Brother, Mr Lloyd was at pains to emphasise that use of the data collected will be tightly controlled.

He said that a code of practice underpins the system's entire operation.

He pledged that people's human rights would be protected and gave an assurance that footage would not appear on any Candid Camera-style television show.

"Access to the CCTV room will be tightly controlled, which is important in giving the public confidence."

The digital technology employed by the new system has enabled contract operators Genesis to block out areas of Rushmoor which are of no security interest.

Supt Joe Apps, who is in charge of policing in Aldershot and Farnborough, said CCTV would help them combat bogus 999 calls made from telephone boxes.

He added that the system would allow them to monitor disturbances in the town centres and arrest the offenders.

Supt Apps conceded that the greater use of CCTV could divert police resources as officers would have to check through footage of any offence captured on film.

But defending this he said he hoped extra use of CCTV would reassure people that the police are on top of crime in the area.

Council officials explained that one of the benefits of the system is that if they spot a crime being committed they can record the incident in ‘real time'.

This method greatly increases the quality of the film footage and is much more effective as evidence in court.

But privately officials concede that CCTV can only be as effective as the courts will allow it to be.

If, they argue, evidence is presented in court but the criminal receives a light sentence, then CCTV will be a less effective deterrent.