Belfast Telegraph

Just one full-time police station left in Northern Ireland

Fears of abandoned communities as PSNI plans to scale down 24 stations

By Deborah McAleese

The PSNI has been warned to stop "wiping out" the police estate, as another 24 stations across Northern Ireland face closure or reduced opening hours.

If current proposals are accepted by the Policing Board, the province will be left with just one 24-hour police station, at Musgrave Street in Belfast.

Eight stations are under consideration for closure while another 16 face having their opening hours reduced further, according to the PSNI.

Information obtained by the Belfast Telegraph shows that Strand Road Police Station in Londonderry, which is currently open 24 hours, is one of those under review for reduced opening.

Ten years ago, there were 140 police stations in Northern Ireland. There are currently only two full-time stations and 59 with limited opening hours, following a previous shake-up of the police estate to address budget pressures.

The PSNI has insisted that policing remains a 24/7 operation and that "normal policing will carry on" despite station closures.

Stations under review for closure are: Castlederg, Portrush, Cushendall, Ballyclare, Carrickfergus, Tandragee, Edward Street Portadown and Beragh.

The opening hours of all reporting stations in Belfast, except Musgrave Street, are under review as well as Strabane, Strand Road, Waterside, Limavady, Coleraine, Ballymoney, Ballymena, Larne, Newtownabbey and Antrim stations.

The PSNI said that at the outset of any review of closure of a police station, the district commander will fully assess the financial cost and benefits in full and then enter into a process of community consultation.

Once completed, the regional assistant chief constable must give his approval prior to submission to the Policing Board. Approval from the Policing Board must be obtained before any disposal can commence, the PSNI said.

So far no new further station disposals have been approved by the Policing Board, the PSNI added.

The threat of station closures has been met with serious concern from politicians and police officers, particularly following the Chief Constable's recent assessment that the Provisional IRA still exists.

"I have long been warning that this is happening too fast and too soon. I think it is regrettable, given the need for public confidence in policing, especially at a time when we are told that the PIRA is still in existence," said Policing Board member Jonathan Craig (left).

The DUP man added: "It is important that police are accessible to the public 24/7.

"Westminster is going to have to realise the pressures faced by policing here."

Ukip's David McNarry warned: "My advice to the Chief Constable and the Policing Board is take a deep breath and rethink this. This is not the time to be making these decisions."

The former justice committee member added: "The public really deserve better.

"In light of recent events the public need assurances and there's nothing assures people more than having an open police station near them.

"I understand the Chief Constable is faced with cutbacks but he has to stop wiping out the police estate."

Rank and file officers are also concerned by the diminishing police estate.

"It feels like we are being removed from the communities that we serve.

"Our stations continue to close and we have fewer and fewer officers and yet the threat from paramilitaries and crime gangs has not gone away," one officer said.

Another added: "I would be concerned that the less visible we are, the more the paramilitaries will try to fill the void."

Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin has said that almost all policing services are delivered outside of stations and that fewer people are visiting them.

He insisted that reductions in opening hours "has not led to a reduction in the level of service delivered."

The continued withering of the police estate comes as the PSNI launches the first of its cost-cutting Local Policing Teams (LPTs).

Due to significant budget pressures, neighbourhood policing teams across the province have been cut from more than 80 to just 34.

Belfast Telegraph

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