Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland town will have police station but no officers

By Joanne Sweeney

The move to have a major Co Down town policed by teams based more than 30 miles away has been criticised as "a cut too far" by political representatives.

Banbridge councillors fear that the town has been sidelined under a new reorganisation by the PSNI.

Concern is growing over how new local policing arrangements will impact on the town and district, which will have a police station but no patrol officers working from it.

Under the new arrangement, the district will be served by local policing teams (LPTs) based in Lurgan and Armagh - more than 13 and 31 miles away.

Its police station is to become an operational command and administrative centre.

It is just one of the changes planned by the PSNI in its radical reorganisation as it creates 26 LPTs and 34 neighbourhood policing teams (NPTs) to deliver policing across Northern Ireland.

They are devised to deal with swingeing PSNI budget cuts and to mirror the reorganisation of local councils.

The reorganisation leaves no police station with response officers based on the Co Down side of the new Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council.

The Banbridge district has a population of 48,000 residents, based mainly in the growing commuter town.

Councillors from across the political divide believe their town will be overlooked in the higher crime demands from the Armagh and Craigavon areas.

Last night Ulster Unionist councillor Ian Burns said: "This is a cut too far and you would have to wonder that Banbridge is not being worried about.

"Of course the police chiefs will say the town and district will still be policed, but I think it matters if police are not based in the area.

"We had a great neighbourhood police unit and they were the eyes and the ears to get the information of the community, and now they will be taken away."

Mr Burns said that under other changes in recent years, councillors were told that the closure of Gilford police station meant it would be policed from Banbridge, that the closure of the Rathfriland station meant it would be policed from Dromore and when Dromore police station was closed, that it would be policed from Banbridge.

He also raised concerns that there were no former Banbridge District councillors sitting as members of the new ABC Policing and Public Safety Partnership.

SDLP councillor Seamus Doyle said: "I live out in Katesbridge and for police to travel out of Armagh or Lurgan, you're talking about an hour away from Armagh and about 45 minutes from Lurgan. It's concerning that the police are moving out of the Banbridge district. It's leaving the place very vulnerable and wide open for burglaries."

Sinn Fein councillor Brendan Curran said: "I understand the concern people have and I would share it, but at the moment it seems to be working reasonably well, but we will be concerned that there would be further cutbacks."

A PSNI spokeswoman said that the LPTs would be fully operational from October 1 and added: "Residents throughout Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon can rest assured that police will continue to be available to them 24/7 and will continue to patrol and provide a visible presence in their area.

"LPTs will cover the whole Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council area.

"The intention is that they will not simply attend calls but will build up an enhanced knowledge of the areas they serve in through engagement with community representatives, local clergy, principals of schools and other key figures."

From April 1, 2014 to November 2014, Banbridge had 1,066 recorded crimes, including 323 crimes of violence against the person, 84 drugs offences and 16 sexual offences.

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