City councillors agreed that a number of important reassurances have been made by Lincolnshire Police over the potential closure of the West Parade police station in Lincoln.
At a Scrutiny Committee held at Lincoln Drill Hall on Tuesday evening, eight councillors heard from Lincolnshire Police Authority and Lincolnshire Police the reasons for a move to a new building.
Lincolnshire Police is proposing a new, smaller police station in the city centre, but with a custody suite, roads and response units moved to a new, bigger building outside the city.
To move or not to move
Chief Constable Neil Rhodes reassured residents and businesses that not only was the meeting the beginning of the public consultation, but that West Parade would not be sold until suitable plans were in place, that would not affect police presence within the city.
Alongside Deputy Chief Constable Alec Wood, Neil Rhodes explained the issues facing the current Lincoln Police Station.
Problems included the fact that it would cost approximately £2.5 million in order to bring the station, which was last renovated seven years ago, up to standard. The money would be used to improve accessibility, IT and cabling, and heating. It is not known as this stage how much a move will cost, due to lack of plans at present.
It was also noted that a number of functions were already done at Nettleham HQ rather than Lincoln, and that there were already police “boxes” around the city in Birchwood, Lincoln North East, Bracebridge Heath, Boultham Park and Hykeham.
The boxes will continue to operate regardless of a decision for West Parade.
However, Lincolnshire police still need to asses the costs of moving or simply repairing the current building.
Alec Wood said: “21st century policing needs 21st century facilities,” and added steps so far, like the G4S partnership and single force structure, were the start of the reform to improve policing after the cuts.
While there are no plans for the city centre unit yet, Wood said the new station would house 35-40 officers and PCSOs, with a staffed public reception, property office, and meeting and interview rooms. The move to the city centre would also help police during the night-time period.
Wood reassured that the move, which would aim to be seamless, would not affect staff numbers — the only thing that might affect the number of police on the streets are the cuts.
Areas are still being looked at for both the new city centre unit and custody suite, but a possibility for the latter could be a new building on Nettleham HQ’s land.
Lincolnshire Police Authority Chair Barry Young stressed no decisions would be made about the new buildings or contracts signed until proper consolation had been done and the new Police and Crime Commissioner is elected in November.
A member of the panel raised concerns about a police authority document (given to Nettleham residents) staying a plot in Deepdale Lane, Nettleham had already been chosen, but Barry Young insisted he had not seen the document and would be making enquiries.
Also on the panel were Lincoln BIG’s Mick Lake, Neil Sands of the Lincolnshire Law Society, local resident Andrew Kerrigan and Sam Barstow of the council’s Anti-Social Behaviour Team.
Each were given a maximum of 20 minutes to argue the impact on the closure of West Parade Police Station on their team or business.
Barstow explained that the changes to the whereabouts of Lincoln Police would not affect the Anti-Social Behaviour Team, due to most of the contact between the team and force being via telephone, and working well with the various boxes within the city.
He added that he would like to be properly consulted on the changes, but understood that the plans were too preliminary at present.
Meanwhile, Lake stated that the police are a pivotal part of Lincoln BIG — a safe city keep people coming back to visit and invest in the local economy. This is why Lincoln BIG uses six city wardens, and forms a partnership with the night police and street pastors during night-time economy.
He explained that the biggest crime issues Lincoln BIG hear about from businesses in the city are shop thefts and alcohol-related crime.
In both of these examples, having the response units and other officers nearby is vital. While driving police don’t necessarily need to be in the city centre, as proposed, they do need to be nearby to ensure quick response times.
Mick Lake also questioned that the 1979 building was too old for purpose, considering a number of units on Lincoln High Street and surrounding were considerably older.
He concluded Lincoln BIG would only be affected if the quality of policing diminished, or the new city centre building was not 24/7, which he described as a “cop shop”.
Andrew Kerrigan summed up the outcomes from a recent public meeting at Mary Le Wigford church, stressing the main concerns over issues like response times and just how in depth the consultation would be.
However, he noted that the police portal for the new building was beginning to be documented on the police website, which he sees as a positive step forward, and is reassured that a public consultation will take place.
Village station problems
Finally, Neil Sands, who spends a lot of time in Lincoln’s custody suite as a solicitor, expressed his concern that there may be a pattern of custody suite closures within Lincolnshire — such as Spalding’s recent closure. He added that Lincoln’s suite was the best in the county, and still fully operational, while others in the county sit empty.
He was concerned that getting officers into the city would take longer, and for 60% of detainees, it would mean more time in detention.
Moving the custody suite into a village with limited public transport would also pose a problem for police. It is unlawful to keep someone within a police station while waiting for transport, and nor can a person be forced onto a bus or car.
Additionally, individuals answering bail must report to a police station, not a police box around the city. This is problematic if they do not have the means to travel, and also wastes police time when they do not show up to answer.
Chief Constable Neil Rhodes responded to the overall concern about the West Parade closure from the different parties.
He explained that the custody suite of the police station was not necessarily the area of the building that needed repairing, but other areas of the premises. He added that there were no patterns to the closures of suites within the county, but that staffing custody around the clock is expensive.
He also stressed the G4S contract only affects the estates department, and will only be helping the force make a decision on the premises and build the suite on behalf of the authority.
Both Barry Young and Neil Rhodes stressed the public were permitted to contact the authority with their feedback at any time, and would even get a say on the what they would like the new buildings to look like.
Barry Young is also keen to find out how the public wanted to be consulted, and a few specific groups had already been given some form of consultation – but not the parties speaking on the panel.
When asked how many people had been consulted to far, Barry Young stated only Lincolnshire County Councillors within the city and Nettleham residents, but struggled to list anyone else.
He added that for some specific areas of consultation, Lincolnshire Police Authority would need to consult professionals, even using the phrase “amateur”, which Councillor Karen Lee questioned.
The authority concluded they would rather offer the public more concrete and research plans than a few ideas.
The panels concluded that working together on these plans was absolutely paramount, and agreed that another Scrutiny Committee will be held in the coming months to assess progress on the plans and consultation — as there are still a number of details lacking.
The most important point the committee finished with was the reassurance that all parties were keeping the importance of policing quality within the city at the forefront of their minds when looking at changes to the Lincoln force.