Security fears over plan to move police college to remote Ballykinler base
Security concerns have been raised over proposals to move the PSNI's training depot from east Belfast to the remote Ballykinler in south Down.
PSNI chiefs have been spotted at the Army camp in recent weeks as negotiations continue over the future of Garnerville Police Training College.
The college, on the outskirts of east Belfast, was intended to have been moved to a new multi-emergency services site at Desertcreat close to Cookstown, Co Tyrone.
However, since that fell through the PSNI has been considering the future of Garnerville.
It is understood that such significant renovation work needs to be carried out at Garnerville that the training college will need to relocate to another destination for up to two years.
A number of locations are being considered for a temporary move, but Ballykinler - where the PSNI already carries out firearms training - is thought to be one of the frontrunners.
Abercorn Barracks on the Ballykinler site comprises accommodation blocks, houses, a large gym hall and shooting ranges.
However, it is understood that reservations have been expressed internally within the PSNI over security for a potential temporary move to Ballykinler - which is accessible by only one road.
In 2009 a car bomb was found close to the base, which was thought to have been abandoned by dissident republicans.
It is also understood there were fears that dissidents have plotted to attack the base at low tide when it can be accessed across the sands.
"East Belfast is obviously a more secure location," a source said.
"And given what has happened in the past, there are concerns dissidents would make an effort to target a PSNI base."
The final Army unit to be based at Abercorn Barracks - 2nd Battalion The Rifles - moved to Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn in 2014.
Since then the barracks have been used as the Army's main training centre in Northern Ireland for new recruits as well as to prepare troops ahead of deployment.
The PSNI, Fire and Rescue Service, Coastguard and Mountain Rescue all currently use the Ballykinler site for training purposes.
Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said: "At this stage no final decision has been taken around the future, and therefore the refurbishment, of Garnerville Training Centre.
"Speculation as to how Garnerville would be refurbished is only speculation and all options need to be considered."
An Ministry of Defence press officer said: "There are a number of options for the future of Abercorn Barracks within the Ballykinler area."
He added with regard to security concerns: "The MoD will not discuss security but will keep it constantly under review."
South Down DUP MLA Jim Wells said he would welcome the police training college to Ballykinler, adding that all the infrastructure is already in place - and recently renovated - to allow the move to take place without much cost.
He said he hoped it could even become a permanent location for the college.
"Ballykinler is tailor-made for the police college because you have all the infrastructure already in place," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "It is ready for them to move in tomorrow morning. We also have the local people who -until very recently - supplied all the support services needed when the army regiment was still there full time."