Northern Ireland

PSNI to close 34 police stations in cost-cutting drive

Forty per cent of all police stations in Northern Ireland could close as part of a cost-cutting plan by the PSNI.

There are currently 83 stations but the police want to close 34 of them.

Details of the plan were presented to members of the policing board on Thursday.

The PSNI has to save £135m - 14% of its overall budget - in a four-year cost-cutting plan that stretches until April 2015. It said the station closures are essential for those savings to be made.

A policing board spokesperson said members have sought further information on the plans and have set up a working group to take this forward.

A statement read: "Board members questioned PSNI and sought further information on the strategy including plans for investment in the police estate through the new build and maintenance programme for the next four years.

"Before a decision is taken on the strategy presented, the board agreed that some further information was necessary in a number of areas."

DUP policing board member Jonathan Craig was critical of the closures.

"We think it is far too much over far too short a time and we have yet to be convinced that the arguments coming from the PSNI with regard to the station closures add up," he said.

He said Thursday's meeting had looked at some "serious issues" including value for money.

Mr Craig said that although there were no rational arguments to keep certain stations open, he felt that the £2m refurbishment two years ago of one listed for closure could not be justified.

Community policing

Assistant Chief Constable Dave Jones said the closures would not affect community policing.

"Most of the police stations that we are looking at are actually open for a small period of time," he said.

"In the last period we have put an extra 600 neighbourhood and response officers into our communities at the wishes of the community."

In 2001, the PSNI inherited 140 stations from the RUC. By 2015, just 49 will remain.

Police said the closures would save £3.5m a year - £2m in rates, maintenance and service contracts, and £1.5m on paying contract security staff to protect the buildings.

The savings would be used to help pay the wages of the 600 extra officers taken from desk jobs to the streets since June 2009.

Police sources say every district council area will have a police station, that no-one will be more than 20 miles from a full-time station and that there will be no change to response times.

Of the 34 stations identified for closure, only Bessbrook operates as a full-time response station.

Other stations earmarked for closure include Donegall Pass in Belfast, Glengormley, Randalstown, Dungiven, Hillsborough and Craigavon.

Withdrawing

Police argue that static buildings do not deliver a policing service and that it is better to close the stations and use the savings to put officers on the ground.

To that end they are also using new technology to use resources better. They are in the process of buying satellite tracking technology for police vehicles.

This will allow dispatchers to see in real time which patrol is nearest to any incident. That should be introduced from next April.

The PSNI is also hoping to cut its vehicle fleet by 16% over five years from next April, representing a reduction of about 300 vehicles.

The proposed closures are expected to be strongly opposed by unionist politicians on the policing board, who argue that the PSNI is effectively withdrawing from many rural areas, and that fewer stations reduce the ability to deal with the threat from dissident republicans.

The proposed closures will go out to public consultation, but the policing board have asked the PSNI for more details about the closures before this takes place.

The police hope to be in a position to proceed with closures, dependant on operational needs, by the beginning of April next year.