Essex Police chief plans to close 21 stations to public

Essex Chief Constable Jim Barker-McCardle Image copyright bbc
Image caption Essex Chief Constable Jim Barker-McCardle admits it is a drastic proposal

Police stations across Essex may be closed to the public because the force is desperate to save money.

In all, 21 stations could be closed to the public completely, with others facing reduced opening hours.

Essex Chief Constable Jim Barker-McCardle said the closures were being made because he needs to save money.

"In an ideal world we may not have made such a drastic proposal. But even in an ideal world there would always be an imperative to save money," he said.

"What we are doing is in line with other police forces in the region. In recent weeks the riots have brought the debate over police finances strongly into the public arena.

"However, I get no sense that the Home Secretary is likely to scale back funding cuts."

The move should save £2.5m from the budget of the Essex force, which needs to save £40m overall. The stations that will go are largely in rural areas of the county.

Limited opening

Essex Police has already announced it is to lose 300 officers. Now police stations like Halstead will only be open from noon to 18:00, six days a week.

Nine "core" police stations which are currently open 24 hours a day will remain open for the majority of the day, while 16 others will have limited opening hours for the public.

The police say most people report a crime by contacting them by telephone.

The decision in Essex is the latest example of our police forces attempting to balance the books.

The Conservative MP for Harlow has now criticised the plans. Robert Halfon said: "Whilst I understand the reduction of hours in smaller police stations, I think it is a major mistake not to have 24-hour access to the police station in a busy town like Harlow - especially on weekends. I will be making this clear to the Essex Chief Constable and the Home Secretary as I respond to the consultation.

"Above all, we need to know how many people are using Harlow Police Station after midnight.

Highly visible

"On the plus side, Harlow Police Station will still be manned 24-hours a day, even if it is not open to the public between midnight and 8am. The front counter may be shut, but the building will still be used as a base, and police officers will be highly visible in the town centre."

If the plan goes ahead, core police stations which will be open 08:00 - 24:00 are Basildon, Grays, Harlow, Southend, Rayleigh, Colchester, Chelmsford, Braintree and Clacton.

Reduced opening hours of 12:00 - 18:00 will apply at Halstead, Saffron Walden, Maldon, Pitsea, South Ockendon, Brentwood, Loughton, Witham, Great Dunmow, Southminster, South Woodham Ferrers, Canvey, Tilbury, Billericacy and Epping.