IT IS the changing face of Hampshire police.
Within just ten years, the landscape of one of the biggest forces in the country will have changed forever.
Today the Daily Echo can reveal that by 2018 a total of 33 police stations will have been closed and sold off by Hampshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) – a stark change from what the estate looked like in 2008.
Those making the changes insist it is change for the better, to ensure the force is better equipped for the future, while others fear the force could lose its identity within communities.
PCC Simon Hayes (above) admits his overhaul of the police estate was the first controversial decision he made, which came as the force faced crippling budget cuts that will have seen Hampshire lose 1,000 officers by 2017.
The force has already made savings of £55m in recent years and is looking to slash £25m off its budget over the next two years.
But Mr Hayes insists the closing of police stations is something that needed to be done and has nothing to do with the cuts.
He told the Daily Echo: “Even if the police budget had been doubled the right thing to do was to look to see where we were wasting money.
"I would have pursued the estates strategy whatever the budget situation. We are not forced to be doing this because of budget cuts – it is good stewardship of public assets.”
As exclusively revealed by the Daily Echo in 2011, plans to close stations across the county got under way with Mr Hayes ordering a review into the estates owned by the force with a view to selling off unnecessary land to stop what he calls the force “haemorrhaging money”.
When he took to his office, he found the force had a maintenance backlog of £6m and a bill close to £20m a year for running costs.
He said: “We were haemorrhaging money on maintaining old buildings in the wrong places.
“The purpose of the estate strategy was not to reduce money, it was to create an organisation that is in the right place to continue neighbourhood policing in the future.
“The money we don’t waste on maintaining old buildings can be invested into neighbourhood policing.”
As a result, across Hampshire stations have closed and been sold off and more are closing, with officers relocated to other community buildings, such as council offices and fire stations.
So far Mr Hayes says it has saved up to £4m a year in running costs and eradicated the need for the £6m bill on maintaining old buildings.
He added: “What we will end up with by 2018 is a police estate that is more effective and efficient to operate from.
“It is always easy for people to criticise something because it is change, but this is change for the better.
“There will still be police at the heart of communities and they will be accessible, just maybe in a different way than before. It is a new world and if we stay stagnant then we decay.
“What we are seeing is the beginning of the future, not the end of the past, in terms of policing in Hampshire and it is very exciting.”
He explained that plans are already under way to look at where front desks can be set up, whether that is done in the traditional way with a front counter or with the use of modern technology with interactive screens.
The force is also working on a facility where people can call their local officer or PCSO on a mobile number and to set up a system where people can report crimes online.
John Apter, chairman of the Hampshire Police Federation, with an advert on a bus campaigning against police cuts.
Mr Apter believes the decisions Mr Hayes took regarding the estate were “bold and long overdue” but he urged caution to ensure it doesn’t go too far.
The federation, which represents the force’s rank and file, launched its #CutsHaveConsequences campaign last week, highlighting the consequences of cuts to policing budgets and what they mean to the taxpaying public.
Mr Apter said: “It was clear the estate had been neglected for many years and something needed to be done. But while there is the business need, there is also the emotional side.
“I have worked in police stations, many of which are earmarked to be sold off, and I understand that the public, especially vulnerable members of the community, see these stations as an item of reassurance.
“So I understand why the public feel they are losing something. We have to ensure all members of the community still have full access to police officers and that they remain visible. Police stations have made this easier up to now but clearly this is going to be more difficult. In addition, with the loss of 1,000 officers by 2017 it is going to be far tougher to keep policing sustainable.
“My worry is that the police could lose its identity as a local service. I understand the reasons why the stations are closing but I think moving to locations, such as supermarkets and libraries, is not sustainable or appropriate.”
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He added he believed sharing buildings with the fire service is the way forward.