One-third of Northern Ireland’s police stations could be closed within the next three years.
Plans to sell off 35 stations were discussed during a private Policing Board meeting yesterday.
If endorsed by the Policing Board, the number of stations in Northern Ireland will be cut from 82 to 47 by 2015 as part of the PSNI’s estate strategy.
The proposals could mean that smaller stations such as Holywood, Keady, Killyleagh and Knocknagoney would close.
Due to the continued threat from dissident republicans some board members have raised concerns over the proposed closures.
No final decision on the number of stations to be sold off will be made until next month’s full Policing Board meeting.
With major cuts to the PSNI’s budget, station closures are inevitable. Senior officers would say that shutting unused stations will lead to more officers being available for frontline policing.
However, chairman of the board’s resources and improvement committee, Jonathan Craig, said the plans are “a step too far”.
“I think most people were shocked at the numbers involved. Thirty-five of 82 police stations is a remarkably large number,” the DUP MLA said.
He admitted that some stations were not being used but said that some smaller stations could be kept open with reduced hours.
Mr Craig said that while some of the stations marked for closure are not open for public access, they enabled police to park vehicles securely, work on necessary paperwork and get onto the streets in a short period of time.
“I have huge concerns over the number and level of closures and the delivery of community policing to local areas.”
But West Belfast MLA Pat Sheehan — who also sits on the committee — said that “we are being over-policed”.
“There are more police stations here per head of population than there are anywhere else in the UK or the island of Ireland, and also twice as many police officers per head of the population than anywhere else,” he said.
In the past some communities have raised concerns over closures saying they feared response times would be slower and there would be a reduced police presence.
Down councillor William Walker said there are major concerns over the possible closure of Killyleagh, Crossgar, Ballynahinch and Saintfield PSNI stations.
“This would mean there is no police station from Downpatrick to Lisburn or Newtownards. How can anyone feel safe or reassured by that?” the DUP councillor said.
Two years ago there were 108 police stations dotted across Northern Ireland. Since then that number was reduced to 82 as part of a major review of the police estate. Now the PSNI is recommending that another 35 stations are closed.