Concern growns over threats to PSNI bases

Concern growns over threats to PSNI bases

16 November 2011 - by JOANNE FLEMING

POLITICIANS are to meet the district’s police chief as concerns mount over the proposed closure of Ballynahinch and Saintfield police stations.

Strangford MP Jim Shannon is to lead a DUP delegation to meet Chief Superintendent Nigel Grimshaw on December 5, after it emerged last month the two stations were on a list of 29 whose future was to be discussed by the Policing Board.

After a further Board meeting on Thursday it transpired that Saintfield has been proposed for closure in 2012-13, and Ballynahinch in 2014-15. The Board was due to make a decision on what police stations will be put forward for public consultation at this meeting, but having requested further information the proposals will not be discussed again until December.

Back in September it was announced that Comber PSNI station was to close following over a year of consultation with local residents, with previous closures in recent years including Crossgar, Killyleagh, Ardglass and Castlewellan stations.

Mr. Shannon said it was the distance for local residents to reach their nearest police station was now “too far”.

“The consultation is coming and I am asking all those who have an interest to respond to the consultation and ensure that their voice is heard,” he said. “I have said it before but I will say it again — I know efficiencies need to be made, but not at the expense of service provision. There should be a physical presence in this vast expanse of communities between Downpatrick and Newtownards and Downpatrick and Lisburn.”

Local MLA Simon Hamilton agreed that a “huge swathe” of Mid Down would be left without a permanent police presence.

“These stations serve large rural areas and the proposal appears to me to be more about saving pounds than protecting the community,” he said.

“It isn’t the bricks and mortar of any particular police station that the community is attached to. It’s the base it affords officers to work in and patrol their particular areas. If experience tells us anything it is that all sorts of alternatives will be put forward by the PSNI but very few are actually enacted afterwards.”

Councillor William Dick, who pointed to previous police assurances that Saintfield police station was safe, said officers would have to travel further to and from their base station under the proposals.

“This cannot be a good use of officers’ time,” he said.

Councillor Billy Walker added that mobile police stations, while effective, were not backed with enough resources to be used as a replacement.

A Policing Board spokesman said ensuring that the police estate meets current and future policing requirements is a key priority for the Board.

“As the owners of the police estate, the Board needs to be satisfied that the estate is being managed effectively and efficiently,” he said.

“Board members have asked for further information on a number of issues. The strategy, which covers the budget period to 2015, will now be considered by the Board at its December meeting.”