Black Country police buildings could be saved after strategy review is launched

Black Country police buildings could be saved after a review into a controversial closure programme was launched.

Aldridge Police Station in Anchor Road is one of the sites lined up for the chop
Aldridge Police Station in Anchor Road is one of the sites lined up for the chop

Oldbury, Wednesfield, Tipton and Aldridge are among sites lined up for closure this year under the West Midlands Police estates strategy, which has seen dozens of stations and bases shut down and sold off in recent years to save cash.

Now Chief Constable Sir David Thompson has announced a review into the programme following a request by recently elected West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Simon Foster.

Speaking at the PCC's strategic board meeting, Sir David said it was "an entirely appropriate time to take stock of where the force is on estates".

He said the force was "growing considerably" as a result of an uplift in officer numbers, which needed to be taken into consideration when looking at available police buildings.

The pandemic had also had an impact "on social distancing and the agility of the force", he added.

Sir David said: "I am very conscious that some of our buildings appear to have had some uncertainty over them for a number of years, and I'm hoping with the review we can give some direction on that."

The four Black Country stations were originally due to close last year but the programme was delayed due to the pandemic. None of them have front desks and they are not open to the public.

Mr Foster said: "West Midlands Police needs an estate that is fit for the 21st century. It needs buildings complete with the modern technology officers need to do their job and help to cut crime.

"The force has also faced cuts of £175 million over the last decade and needs to do everything it can to preserve officer numbers. Despite our recruitment plans, we will still be 1,000 officers down on 2010.

"That is why I have asked the Chief Constable to review the force's estates requirement, so I can consider the strategy at my Strategic Policing and Crime Board meeting in September."

A number of plans are understood to be unaffected by the review.

They include the new Integrated Control Suite, which is due to open in Aston this year, and a 'super' station for Dudley, which is currently being held back by a land wrangle over its proposed site on Hall Street.

The issue of police stations has been at the centre of a long running political row in the West Midlands.

Conservative MPs across the region have campaigned to stop the closures, arguing that the strategy has resulted in a reduced police presence in communities.

Labour has blamed the closures on cuts to the police budget by previous Tory administrations, while the force has argued that many of the buildings are in a poor state of repair and have low occupancy levels.

Wolverhampton North East MP Jane Stevenson, who has campaigned to save the force's Wednesfield site, said she welcomed the review.

"We will have to wait for the Chief Constable's findings, but we know that the public feel happier and safer when they have access to a front desk," she added.

Stourbridge MP Suzanne Webb said confidence in policing in her constituency had been "sorely missing" since the town's station closed in 2017.

She said: "This review means nothing to anyone unless it looks properly at the options for a station or even a base for officers in my constituency.

"I won’t stop campaigning for a station because it’s what residents tell me they want and, quite frankly, the PCC needs to pull his finger out and find a station for Stourbridge."

Home Secretary Priti Patel has described police stations as "vital lifelines to protecting communities and the public".

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