Express & Star

Keeping 'empty' police stations open a waste of taxpayers' money - PCC

David Jamieson has defended police station closures – saying it was a waste of taxpayers' money to keep "empty buildings" open.

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Aldridge Police Station is one of eight sites lined up for closure

The West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner's controversial estates programme has seen dozens of stations close in recent years, with a further eight sites including Aldridge, Oldbury, Tipton and Wednesfield due to shut down in 2021.

At his monthly strategic board meeting the Labour PCC was challenged over the scheme by Conservative PCC candidate Jay Singh-Sohal, who submitted a 5,000-signature petition calling for stations to stay open.

The issue has been at the centre of a long running political row, with Tories campaigning to stop the closures, which Labour blames on Government cuts to the police budget.

Presenting his petition, Mr Singh-Sohal said many people were concerned at seeing the "axe hovering above their police stations while crime continues to rise".

He added: "As record levels of investment goes into increasing the numbers of officers, and with a police budget of more than £600 million – and indeed now with a £10 million budget underspend – will the PCC stop his controversial programme of police station closures?"

Mr Singh-Sohal also criticised the PCC for referring to police stations as "a waste", saying that they were viewed as "assets" by local people.

Jay Singh-Sohal presented a petition on station closures at Lloyd House

Respnding to the petition, Mr Jamieson said: "I have to get best value for the taxpayer, and keeping empty buildings open and having to maintain them and part-heat them is not a good use of taxpayers' money."

He said a number of stations were "surplus to requirements", including Sutton Coldfield which he said was 90 per cent unoccupied.

And the PCC said Conservative-run Solihull Council had unveiled plans that would see the town's police station bulldozed and replaced with flats – a move he was against.

"We have a choice now," Mr Jamieson added. "Do we maintain a lot of empty buildings, or do we provide more police officers?

"My decision has been that we should have more police officers. Empty buildings do not keep people safe."

Mr Jamieson also defended the £34 million refurb of West Midlands Police headquarters Lloyd House, saying it had allowed the force to close down other offices and save cash on maintenance, heating and rent costs.

PCC David Jamieson

Mr Singh-Sohal said: "The Labour PCCs response fails to acknowledge or reassure the thousands of Black Country residents, whose police stations in Aldridge, Tipton and Wednesfield he could not even name.

"He belittles the 5,000 plus people who expressed their concerns and describes as a 'waste' the community assets they know in losing will see crime rise in their neighbourhoods, while defending the centralisation at Lloyd House.

"With police recruitment and budgets rising fast, he pursues closures because he has run out of ideas, entrenched in a failing strategy which as PCC I will stop."

Chief Constable Dave Thompson said although the force valued the provision of "public facing facilities", it had needed to change its policy on buildings due to economic challenges and the need to match "policing needs".

He said WMP was due to open a new command centre in Aston where major operations will be run from, while a new site was also planned for Dudley.

Officers were also sharing facilities with the fire service and local authorities, he added.