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Plans to modernise police force estate facing complex hurdles

As Cambridgeshire has won public approval to build a new hub outside the city centre other forces are facing opposition to closing city centre stations

Cambridgeshire Constabulary and West Midlands Police are both looking to close or build new stations in their attempts to modernise their operational buildings.

Cambridgeshire has received a 70% approval rate after a consultation that included contacting 8,500 household and businesses on proposals to build a new police hub.

The force announced the month-long consultation in July to gain the views on its plans to build a new police hub in Milton to replace Parkside Police Station while maintaining a presence in the city centre.

Its current facilities do not allow the Constabulary to expand the existing station, it has too few cells, the location is subject to heavy traffic and the building doesn’t meet modern standards.

The new building will not only meet emissions standards but also demands for officers to tacke 21st Century crimes. Enhanced IT facilities will enable the Constabulary to investigate complex crimes such as online fraud more effectively.

The IT suite in the building will also allow increased use of virtual courts which reduces the need for travel and there will be an extra 12 cells.

Cambridgeshire is also having to move its resources because of major housing and business park developments which have shifted population numbers.

It isn’t the only force to consider the option. Merseyside is among those to create a hub for officers and downsize its estate. Suffolk revealed plans in June for a £3.9m shared site with its fire service.

The gains include better working with other agencies that can be co-hosted on a site, running cost savings, lower emissions along with using money from the sale of un-wanted sites to fund other services.

Area Commander for the south of Cambridgeshire, Superintendent James Sutherland said: “We are extremely grateful to everyone who took the time to give us their feedback and help shape the future of policing in Cambridgeshire.

“We’re committed to engaging with the local community and following submission of the application we will ensure that all interested parties and key stakeholders remain informed and updated regarding the proposals.”

In the West Midlands, a series of station closures have been planned but now petitions have been launched to reverse the decision.

The force is planning to close 24 stations over the coming years in order to take advantage of developments such as agile working and shared sites. The plan had already been signed off in 2018 by Chief Constable Dave Thompson and Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson.

Conservative MPs and the party’s prospective candidate for next May’s Police and Crime Commissioner election have launched petitions to save stations.

MP Julian Knight wants to keep Solihull Police Station. He said: “Residents here want real community-based policing, not to be left reliant on a ‘flying squad’ based in Birmingham.”

But Mr Jamieson has hit back. He warned that the austerity-era cuts have left him with little choice.

“Due to the huge cuts we have faced over the last decade we have had to prioritise officer numbers over largely empty buildings. It is a shame that many people who supported and voted for cuts to policing are now complaining about the consequences of them,” he said.

“Unless there are creative ideas around how we use Solihull Police station that base will have to be smaller and potentially somewhere else in the town centre. By downsizing we are saving taxpayers money and able to protect officer numbers, rather than having empty buildings and fewer officers.”

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