MPs across the political divide have spoken of their grave concerns at plans to close local police custody suites in County Durham and Darlington as part of plans for new centralised facilities.
They were responding to Durham Police plans for a new 48-cell custody facility at Durham Gate, near Spennymoor, which would see the closure of existing suites in Bishop Auckland, Darlington, Durham and Peterlee.
The force says the project is expected to cost around £21million, and will save it an average of £400,000 a year in pay and other costs, but MPs argue the force will be “squandering” the money.
North Durham MP Kevan Jones, said: “Before any decisions are taken there needs to be full consultation.
“I have grave concerns, not only about the centralisation of custody and its effect on existing police stations in the north of the county, but also the fact that they are spending huge amounts of public money without any public consultation.”
Easington MP Grahame Morris said: “Any decision to close cells at Peterlee will take police off the streets in east Durham.
“A one-hour round trip to a centralised custody facility in Spennymoor is an ineffective use of police time.
“Cleveland Police tried a similar scheme, using the same arguments adopted by Durham Constabulary. However, the reality, reduced police patrols and hours lost transporting prisoners mean the changes command little public or political support.”
He added: “Centralised custody facilities have far-reaching implications for policing, and the public deserve to have their views represented. A new Police and Crime Commissioner, to be elected in May, will have a democratic mandate to make long-term strategic decisions over the future of policing.
“This ill-advised decision, to squander millions of pounds of reserves on a centralised custody facility, should not be taken by an appointed Acting Police and Crime Commissioner.”
Darlington MP Peter Gibson is calling for “full and proper community engagement over the proposals.
He said : “I confess I was surprised to see the proposals for one centralised custody facility for the whole of the county, as I was under the impression that Darlington would not lose its custody facilities.
“Whilst accepting the increase in police numbers through the current recruitment programme, and the savings to be made in operating a single modern fit-for-purpose facility, I remain sceptical that this will not have a detrimental impact on the community I represent.”
He added: “My concern is they have backlog of work to their entire estate they have brought forward this proposal which, for the huge geography of the whole of the county of Durham would bring forward one custody suite giving them slightly less accommodation than they have got at the four sites at the moment.
“The genuine concern, not only myself but the community I serve, is what will be the impact in terms of policing on the streets of Darlington.
I don’t want to see the extra bobbies that we have on the beat up ferrying people up and down the A1 to Spennymoor, when I want to see them on the streets of Darlington.
“What we need here is rather than a race to a single common denominator site, we need a discussion as to how Durham’s whole estate is managed and operated into the future.”
Outlining the plans, hief Constable Jo Farrell said: “The decision to close custody facilities is not one we can ever take lightly – it follows months of extensive research into operational demand and resource planning.
“I can reassure residents that a closure of custody facilities in Bishop Auckland, Darlington, Peterlee and Durham City will not affect our ability to police these areas.”She added: “This new centralised custody facility is an important investment for policing in County Durham and Darlington, and will bring our custody facilities up to date.
“The facility will be specifically designed to improve safety, privacy and dignity for detainees, many of whom are vulnerable, and will significantly improve their welfare while in our care.
Members of the public will also be invited to have their say on the proposals as part of a full planning process. Details of this will be released in due course.
Steve White, Acting Durham Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner said: “As the acting Commissioner, I will ensure that the views of local people are listened to as the planning application process continues and as the Force examines wider estate issues going forward.