The focus for the Met police has very much been on preparations for the Olympics, but from this autumn, we can expert some difficult decisions in central London relating to police front counter services. Since the election, the Mayor has indicated that he is only committed to guaranteeing one 24 hour front counter per borough. This is part of a drive aimed at meeting the financial challenge of the 2010 spending review whereby the Met needs to find £232m before it can balance the books (HMIC). Can you imagine what this means for stations in Central London particularly as the real estate value of these sites are much higher then anywhere else in London? So yesterday at the MOPAC, I asked the new Deputy Mayor for Police and Crime, Stephen Greenhalgh that very question. The reply was rather dismissive but I remain sceptical, and of course only time will tell. He did however give a taster of what’s to come when he said: “I do believe that if we focus on rationalising the property estate, significant savings and improvements to operational efficiency can be made” Not much reading between the lines needed here.
The MPS had also previously indicated Borough Commanders would ultimately be given responsibilities for deciding when a counter will be closed after taking into account the needs of local residents. For example, in the City of Westminster, the borough commander has indicated that he wants to organise police response teams from one base in the south of the borough. Operationally there is clear evidence this is happening already as criminal incidents in Paddington are being dealt with by Belgravia Police Station. In the past, response teams would operate from Paddington Green and Charing Cross as well. Can the Met seriously think that with the huge demands on policing in the City of Westminster which is home to 2/3rds of the West End, it can operate effectively and quickly from just one police station in Belgravia? What about West End Central and Charing Cross stations? Surely these won’t be sold off given the demands of the West End on their door-step. The other police stations in the City like Harrow Rd, St John’sWood & Marylebone in the North tend to serve City residents, and therefore their fate is probably a fait accompli!
The meeting today did not make any clearer what the likely casualties of the spending drive would be. However, residents will want a clear indication as soon as possible what the effect will be for their wards in the centre and north of the City of Westminster and also for the Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNT’s) in particular. The latter is something residents now take for granted but more fundamentally, it will be difficult for residents to accept the demise of their local police station which has served their community for many years.
A similar picture seems to be emerging in another borough which is home to the other 1/3rd of the West End; Camden. Here Tory councillors are proposing a motion to the effect that one central police base alone, like Kentish Town station, will not be in the interest of Camden’s residents and therefore, will oppose any such move. Clearly this goes against the sentiments expressed by the Mayor since his re-election and puts up a line of defence against the closure and selling off of stations like West Hampstead, Hampstead & KentishTown in the North and Albany Street & Holborn in the South.
Finally, it will be interesting to see what the Deputy Mayor gets up to in his old patch in Hammersmith & Fulham? There, we have three police stations in Fulham, Hammersmith & Shepherds Bush. With the Mayor’s vision of just one 24 hour counter per borough, this could mean losing two out of the existing three. So, which ones are these going to be Stephen?
What ever the Deputy Mayor says about the fact that police stations closures will be determined by operational considerations rather then capital receipts, I suspect selling some of the central London ones will generate enough capital to save more police stations in the suburbs. Call me a cynic perhaps but it will be very interesting to see how the map above will look by the end of the Mayoral term. My hope is that community needs are put at the fore of the restructuring. What we don’t want is front counter policing determined by the value of real estate capital receipts.