End of 'bobby on the beat' as third of police stations close
PUBLISHED March 18, 2012
Hundreds of thousands of residents living in rural areas will soon be left without a local station and will have to report crimes to officers based miles away.
A survey by the Sunday Telegraph of the 43 police forces in England and Wales has found that at least 361 of some 1,300 police stations have closed to the public in the last two years or are due to be shut, two-thirds of which are in small towns and villages.
Some stations are closing down permanently, while others are reducing their services and moving into makeshift offices known as "police points" in larger towns and city centres.
Police say the closures are necessary after the Government cut their funding by 20 per cent.
However critics say the decision to close large numbers of traditional "blue lamp" stations will leave communities vulnerable.
Jill Grieve, a spokeswoman for the Countryside Alliance, said the closures sounded the "death knell for the bobby on the beat".
"Relationships between police officers and rural communities has traditionally been very strong, but when they shut up shop and move away it will lead to a complete breakdown," she said.
"People used to know the name of their local bobby and where to find them, once that face-to-face contact is gone they will, quite rightly, feel abandoned and vulnerable.
"The rural population is getting older and they won't feel comforted when they're told they should call a 101 number or go online to report a crime."
Some of those with the biggest number of closures are Gloucestershire, Hampshire and Nottinghamshire.
In Hampshire, where 18 of its 47 stations are being sold off, victims of crime had been asked to report offences by email because so many of their stations had been closed.
Gloucestershire is selling off 18 of its 29 stations, leaving communities concerned that response times will suffer and crime levels could rise with police further away from the people they serve.
Cotswolds villages Tutshill in the Forest of Dean, Winchcombe and Moreton-in-Marsh - areas popular areas for second homes - are among those left without a station.
Winchcombe town councillor Tim Petchey told a consultation on the station's closure: "It seems an awful shame police are effectively withdrawing from the country areas almost entirely.
"Professional criminals will target these areas because they know they can get away with it. The police will have to come from Cheltenham or Tewkesbury."
In Surrey, Epsom, Cranleigh and Walton are among a dozen stations earmarked for closure, despite concerns raised by residents at consultation meetings.
Devon and Cornwall has closed the front counters of 35 out of their 57 stations, while Lancashire has plans to shut 14 stations and around 12 rural bases.
Nottinghamshire is closing 15 of its 42 stations, as the force claims they cannot justify keeping open rural stations they say are not used enough by the public.
Assistant Chief Constable Paul Scarrott, of Nottinghamshire Police, said: "It is apparent there are too many police stations across the county, some of which were hardly used any more by the public.
"Many of those buildings are old, they are expensive to maintain and are a drain on funding. These are very quiet, underutilised premises.
"We recognise that people now prefer to use other ways to contact the police rather than turning up at a station."
Police forces across the country are selling their expensive Victorian police station buildings and renting cheaper offices to be used as police points in supermarkets, fire stations and even golf clubs.
Police in Kidlington, Oxfordshire, could soon be sharing offices with the local firefighters. While the two services would share a front desk, the police would have their own interview room to take witness statements, although there would not be any space for prison cells.
Police in Bushey, Hertfordshire, have also closed their station - one used by officers since 1884, and have taken up residence in the local golf club. While the club serves as their base, officers have to drive to the larger Watford station at the beginning and end of each shift to store their equipment and vehicles.
In nearby London Colney, Herts, the force is renting out an office in Sainsbury's supermarket.
Of the 18 stations closing in Gloucestershire, 14 are to become police points set up in council offices and schools.
Regular beat patrols in those areas are being replaced by "response policing", which means police only leave the office for emergency calls.
Some forces have started encouraging people to report incidents on the CrimeReports website, which allows them to track the progress of inquiries without having to contact the investigating officer.
Although rural forces have seen the biggest number of closures, London could see a large proportion of its 138 stations shut to the public. As part of the Metropolitan Police's two-year review of its estate, stations which they say are under-used will be closed and at least one in every borough will be kept open 24 hours a day.