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PCCs set for collision with Chiefs and Treasury over station closures

Station closures could be halted, if Police and Crime Commissioners get their way.

A three way battle between the Home Office, Chief Constables and PCCs over the future of stations looks set to begin.

Despite huge budget pressures and demand shifting to online contacts with forces, PCCs have said they want to re-open stations.

The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners said the move would give the public “reassurance” and revive confidence in policing.

Some forces have been quietly reversing decisions after shared office deals failed or expected site sale prices failed to materialise.

But it’s the first time PCCs have formally set what is a policy u-turn.

Alison Hernandez, the Conservative police and crime commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, said the idea is “controversial with chief constables” but “public confidence is so needing to be reinvigorated in policing that we need to reopen and show that policing is open to the public”.

She revealed plans to reopen six stations in her region but said it is “very hard” to get such proposals “over the line” as chiefs try to justify the resource.

Her force isn’t the only one to relook at its estate management.

This week North Yorkshire confirmed plans to open two new stations – and both will have front counters.

And one of the first jobs for Wiltshire’s PCC after his election last year was resolving whether the force would take back a station it had been offered for just £1 as a shared office deal with a council ended due to lack of interview space.

Greater Manchester is re-opening a custody centre due to increased demand - and the need to cut journey times.

Ms Hernandez said: “Do you know how hard it is to get them reopened? Flippin’ hard, it is so hard because we know the footfall will be low.

“The reasons they closed was because of low footfall. But I think public confidence is so needing to be reinvigorated in policing that we need to reopen and show that policing is open to the public, that policing is accessible to the public.”

The issue is likely to become a hotly-contested issue in the local elections when campaigning starts in just over a month’s time.

A critical issue will be how they will be paid for as it sets PCCs directly against the Home Office which is under pressure from the Treasury to sell public sector sites to developers.

It's also a major challenge for urban forces - especially in the capital - where real estate prices are huge due to demand from office developers.

And police chiefs are less than enthusiastic as most people now report crimes by phone or online – and will soon be encouraged to share photos and video clips through web portals.

Ms Hernandez said the technology wasn’t enough: “We all have challenges with our 101 contact centres for trying to ring the police in a non-emergency and it’s not good enough. So you’ve got to have other routes in which people can access policing.”

It’s another shift back to neighbourhood policing – and another reversal of policies and cuts implemented during the austerity era.

The Met has posted dozens of new recruits into neighbourhood teams and tasked them with targeting crime hotspots.

Norfolk Constabulary is running a neighbourhood policing week as part off its reboot.

Norfolk's PCC Giles Orpen-Smellie said scarce resources needed to be deployed where they were needed most and would have the most impact.

He said: "Visible, proactive and engaging policing is crucial in helping to improve public trust and confidence in policing.”

Police staff, as opposed to officers, should be posted to front desks.

“So yes, it’s controversial in the chiefs’ world. I’d say it’s very hard to get it over the line, to get that push forward because they feel like they should be spending it on policing rather than being accessible to the public,” Ms Hernandez added.

She also warned a lack of funding to improve the “ageing” police estate will mean the “new, fresh faced” police joining forces as part of the national recruitment drive to hire an extra 20,000 officers would end up working in “quite tired stations where we can’t afford to actually revamp them”.

Some police and crime commissioners are looking into other ways of making police more visible to the public with mobile vans, particularly in neighbourhoods where it may not be possible to have a station.

Stephen Mold, the Northamptonshire PCC, is deploying neighbourhood ‘beat buses’ into specific areas.

He said: “It’s very much an evaluation but it’s already proving itself to be so successful. I’ll probably be buying another one.”

Ms Hernandez said there was now a clear commitment to bricks and mortar in communities: “What the public need for reassurance is that there’s a reliable place that you can go to and you know it’s there. That’s the bit that gives you the public confidence that policing is there for you.”

She added: “We’re just trying to work through how we can support the Uplift in police officers to be proud that they’ve got a station with a front desk, that they matter in that community.”

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