A pledge to re-open Leighton Buzzard’s police station to the public with the help of local volunteers has been made in a draft Bedfordshire policing plan.
The plan, compiled by new county police and crime commissioner Kathryn Holloway, went before Bedfordshire’s police and crime panel meeting on Thursday.
It describes Leighton Buzzard as Mrs Holloway’s “first priority” as she gets to grips with the Force’s funding challenges and the need for more visible policing following her election on May 5.
In recent times, senior Leighton-Linslade councillors have accused Beds Police of abandoning the town, with fierce criticism that the majority of its scant resources were being used to police Luton.
But Mrs Holloway believes closing the enquiry office at the Hockliffe Road police station to the public was a mistake and says that Deputy Chief Constable Mark Collins has been appointed senior lead on developing “an enhanced Crime Response Plan” for Leighton Buzzard.
Mrs Holloway says she will reveal more detail of her plans for Leighton Buzzard at a public meeting on June 30 at the town’s cricket club (6.30-8.30pm).
Also present at the gathering will be Deputy Chief Constable Collins, who intends to unveil how a new Community Policing Hub for the town will work, and Supt Sharn Basra who will talk through some of the current operations targeting different types of crime.
The PCC’s draft plan talks of the need for a police base in Leighton Buzzard.
Mrs Holloway states: “Where Leighton Buzzard is concerned, I immediately raised questions regarding the policing of our third largest town as part of my role of holding the force to account.
“I intend to turn around the ‘closed’ sign on the station door. Our officers are often out of the building in the course of their duties but, if the building is occupied, the principle has to be that ‘if we’re in we’re open’ and will not refuse to take enquiries, especially since the Estates’ Review of 2012 established that there are only a handful of these per day.
“Residents need to understand though that it will be necessary to ring the 101 number to register concerns if officers, Specials and PCSOs are out of the station in the course of their police duties in the community. DCC Collins is backing me in a drive to recruit local volunteers who may be prepared to provide extra back-up to ensure a more regular presence at the station, by day.”
Although it appears the police station will be open to the public again for business, the PCC says long-term she will investigate the possibility of sharing premises with the fire service.
She states: “Currently there are no shared estates between the services in Bedfordshire, leading to costly duplication of public buildings in some areas, with both a fire and police station.
“The future of the underoccupied Leighton Buzzard station has been discussed for over a decade yet the town has a fire station. We already pay for these buildings from the public purse and where Community Policing Hubs require a base, even temporarily, it seems sensible to look to sharing facilities like these rather than duplicating buildings.”
She adds that although the police station was deemed surplus to requirements in an Estates Review, an alternative arrangement will need to be in place before it is sold.
A report to Thursday’s crime panel meeting added: “The Commissioner is in advanced discussions with Central Bedfordshire Council which will assist in the disposal of the station itself and in the identification of an alternative location for an enquiry function in Leighton Buzzard.”
Meanwhile, Mrs Holloway has also warned Beds Police faces more swingeing cutbacks in order to get itself out of the red.
Her crime plan states that in the next four years the force will need to make £11.5m in savings – more than a tenth of its entire budget (£100m).
Despite making £25.3m of cutbacks from 2011-16, Beds Police has seen its annual funding from the government fall by £400,000.
Mrs Holloway has pledged to fight for extra funding to improve the bleak outlook.
Her draft plan states: “We are still very much a low-funded force and as commissioner for Bedfordshire I will not only oversee the strongest possible management of our finances but will continue to lobby government to ensure that our county receives an equitable financial settlement.”
It adds: “I will relentlessly explore new opportunities for maximising the available resources to protect our communities.”