MLAs' fury as police announce holding cell closures
Assembly members have expressed their astonishment after it emerged that a Co Down police custody suite is set to close permanently - with fears that it could be the first step to closing Bangor's PSNI station.
Holding cells at Armagh are also set to shut down, but the PSNI said there would be no job losses, with affected staff to be offered transfers.
There will also be a number of temporary closures, including Enniskillen's custody suite, which will shut next March 2017 for refurbishment.
The PSNI said the four custody closures announced yesterday would save around £1m by 2019.
Particular concern has been voiced over the closure of Bangor custody suite. The PSNI said although it would be closed from December 1, it will be available for short periods of time, if required, to facilitate the ongoing refurbishment programme under way in other suites.
DUP MLA Alex Easton said he was astonished by the development. "It is especially shocking as the Bangor custody facility is relatively new," he added.
Mr Easton also claimed that if Bangor custody suite was closed, it would leave just one custody suite to serve the entire north Down and Ards area.
"We in north Down have been badly affected over the years with the closure of Donaghadee station and Holywood police station, which is not open to the public, and police sent from Ards to cover any incidents," he added.
"I will be seeking a meeting with the PSNI and the Justice Minister to discuss the issue. I would urge the PSNI to reconsider and to reverse their decision to close yet another PSNI facility from north Down."
Ulster Unionist MLA Alan Chambers added: "Another major concern is that this could lead to the permanent closure of Bangor police station, given the recent restrictions placed on its public opening hours. I have asked a written priority question today of the Justice Minister asking if she was aware of any plans to close Bangor PSNI Station."
Meanwhile, Lurgan custody suite - which is currently being refurbished - will re-open early next year after Armagh closes permanently, and Antrim custody suite will re-open on December 1 2016 following major refurbishment.
Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin said more than 27,000 people were detained in cells annually, and "therefore it is essential the facilities remain fit for purpose".
He said the PSNI's ambition is to "create a more effective and efficient custody service consisting of a fewer number of better-equipped suites, each of which will see the introduction of embedded healthcare and support services to help keep people safe".