Belfast Telegraph

Police closures plan scrutinised

Politicians want time to scrutinise a police plan to save up to £5 million a year by closing 34 stations around Northern Ireland.

The Policing Board has asked for more information on the proposal, and has set up a special working group to scrutinise the blueprint.

The group will report back in January, with both unionist and republican representatives seeking further details on a plan which they fear may hit rural areas.

But Assistant Chief Constable Dave Jones said the police had to make best use of their network of stations, while also using modern technology to ensure officers on the beat did not need to return to base as often.

He said: "As with all other UK police services and publicly funded bodies, the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) has undertaken to deliver £135 million in efficiency savings back to the government over the next four years.

"As part of our agreed plan to deliver these savings, which was previously submitted to the board, we must deliver a £5 million saving in the estate baseline budget in order to protect frontline staff and services. This means we cannot continue to fund the current size of our police estate.

The PSNI currently has 83 stations, but had around 140 a decade ago. But as the region puts decades of conflict behind it, and economic pressures bite, police said savings have to be found.

The DUP had previously been among those on the board to challenge the plan to close the stations by 2015.

The party's Jonathan Craig said: "The board has yet to be convinced that you can deliver appropriate community policing with such a huge reduction in your rural police stations, because that seems to be what has been targeted here, and we do have major concerns."

Sinn Fein policing board member Pat Sheehan said the public had concerns about police response times and police visibility and he said the savings proposal had to be considered. But he said of unused bases: "They are effectively a drain on resources."

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