MULTIMILLION-pound cuts that would close Sunderland’s Gill Bridge and Farringdon police stations have sparked concern across the city.
Plans to save £46million from Northumbria Police’s budget would see the closure of the two stations with a new Southern Area Command based outside of Wearside, in South Shields.
The decision to close Gill Bridge would leave the city centre without a main police base for the first time in more than 100 years.
While Northumbria Police’s chief constable Sue Sim vowed that neighbourhood policing would remain “the cornerstone” of the Force’s service, Sunderland’s MPs today expressed concern over how the changes would affect policing in the city.
Gordon Armstrong, chairman of the Northumbria Police Federation, said no stations would close until “community” stations had been established in the city.
He added: “These would be in people’s neighbourhoods, in their communities, in shopping centres etc.
“We will have to wait and see what people’s response to this would be before we can say whether these changes will have an effect on community policing.”
Under the plans, area commands across the Northumbria Force area will be reduced from six to three – Northern, Central and Southern.
The Southern base, which would include the current Sunderland and South Tyneside area commands, would be located at Millbank Station in South Shields.
The proposals have prompted concern from the city’s MPs who are now planning to meet Northumbria’s Crime Commissioner in a bid to seek reassurance over the effects.
Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, said: “The police have not contacted me about their plans, and I have only been informed through the local press.
“I am quite alarmed about these proposals and fail to see how they will not have an impact on front-line services.”
Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, added: “Crime and antisocial behaviour is a concern for many in our community. Visible proactive policing plays a crucial role in keeping residents safe and it’s vital this continues.
“It’s essential that the impact on communities and small businesses in areas affected by these proposals is taken into account before any decision is made.
“I will be seeking a meeting with the Police and Crime Commissioner to discuss what impact these proposals will have.”
Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, said: “These cuts are an inevitable consequence of the huge and unbalanced cuts to policing from this Government and, despite all best efforts, will undoubtedly be detrimental to front-line services and crime fighting.
“I’ll be examining the plans and discussing them in greater detail with Vera Baird, in particular to ensure that the loss of Farringdon Station won’t leave my constituents in Sunderland West with nowhere to turn to report crime.”
Boldon Colliery in Hedworth Lane, which is already closed to the public, is also on the list to be axed.
Plans are the latest blow to Sunderland city centre
WHILE Northumbria Police claim the restructuring plans will help save millions without impacting on front-line policing, the planned closures raise further questions about the effects on Sunderland’s already ailing city centre.
A key aim of Sunderland City Council, as set down in its Economic Masterplan, is the regeneration of all the city’s economic centres for employment, business, leisure and retail use.
The closure of the police station only adds to similar closures announced nearby in recent months.
The city centre took a blow last year when it was announced that hundreds of HMRC staff from Gilbridge House, adjoining the station, would be moved out of the city centre.
Councillor Harry Trueman, deputy leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “I have met Northumbria Police’s Crime Commissioner Vera Baird and its Chief Constable Sue Sim about this announcement.
“They have assured me, on behalf of everybody across our city, that front-line neighbourhood policing is safeguarded, and the number of ‘bobbies on the beat’ remains.
“I’m told that no police buildings in Sunderland are going to close until alternatives are in place.”
The move also raises questions over the long-term future of Sunderland Magistrates’ court which is linked to the station.
Plans to build a new court complex on land opposite the current building were given the go-ahead in 2009, but the project has been repeatedly stalled.
Industry publication the Law Gazette has reported that some £1,086,303 has already been paid in architectural fees, with £876,353 paid to Sunderland City Council for the land.
Sunderland’s main police station has been situated in the city centre since August 1907, first at the Central Police Station before later becoming Gill Bridge.