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Monday, 25 May 2015

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Tynedale: Councils seek assurances on police station closures

TOP brass at Northumbria Police will be called into the district to give assurances that the closure of five stations will not impact on police services.

Chief constable Sue Sim and police commissioner Vera Baird will be asked to attend a meeting of Haltwhistle Town Council next month to face questions from its worried members.

It comes after the force revealed last month that five of the district’s six police stations – at Prudhoe, Haltwhistle, Bellingham, Corbridge and Ponteland – are set to close, with only Hexham remaining open.

A total of 25 communities across the Northumbria force area could lose their local stations – along with a cull of 200 senior officers and 230 civilian staff posts – as part of the force’s requirement to save £46m by 2017.

While Mrs Sim has already insisted that officers will be based in community buildings such as libraries and village halls, councillors are not convinced.

Speaking at Haltwhistle Town Council’s meeting on Monday, Coun. Margaret Forrest said: “I feel very strongly that the police are not being very open with us.

“I think we need to have Sue Sim and Vera Baird here to clear the air.”

Coun. Kevin Little said: “We should engage with the commissioner or the police, and if the police station goes we should have some sort of police office.

“We must make sure we keep a physical police presence here.

Chairing the meeting, Coun. Alan Sharp said: “It is important that we have some sort of police base in Haltwhistle, where people can go, as they would to a police station.”

On the same night, the job of answering tough questions about policing fell to Inspector Dave Simpson, at a meeting of Prudhoe Town Council.

Mayor of Prudhoe Coun. Tony Reid said he immediately sought assurances after finding out about the proposed closures on television.

Coun. Jennifer McGee said: “With the police station it’s a prominent building and it gives the town some prominence because it’s been there for quite a long time.

“And I’ve got to say, like a lot of people, I will be sad to see the police station closed and I really don’t think it should be.”

Coun. George McCreedy said: “Closing the building is a confidence thing for the town.

“The public is wondering what’s going to close next.”

Insp. Simpson reassured councillors that there would be no change in the number of officers stationed in the Prudhoe area.

He also stated that any alternative accommodation for the policing team would be sought in Prudhoe and that no changes would be made until a suitable location was found.

He added: “The confusion is that police stations are closing down but it’s actually police buildings that are closing down.

“Police officers will still be stationed in the area and that police building will not close until we’ve got alternative accommodation for neighbourhood officers to stay in the area where they police.

“The chief constable says that front line services are to be protected so we have to see where we can make possible savings.

“We have to look at real estate, the buildings.

“A lot of them are old buildings and maintenance costs are high.”

Insp. Simpson said any new police base in Prudhoe would have 24 hour access and operate with the same opening hours as the current station.

Insp. Simpson added: “It’s my job to look for a suitable location to make sure people still get the same service as now.”