POLICE chiefs have been requested to make Glenarm station available for community use, after the area commander announced last week that it is almost certain to close.
Chief Supt Chris Noble briefed Larne District Policing Partnership that he will recommend to the Policing Board that the part-time facility should be shut and disposed of, despite what he acknowledged was a “powerfully expressed” local lobby for a continued police presence in the village.
Expressing disappointment at the move, Ulster Unionist Assemblyman Roy Beggs Jnr urged the PSNI and the board to “show a willingness to look imaginatively at suggestions to make the police station a community building”; Sinn Fein MLA Oliver McMullan called on politicians to “get behind the community in putting proposals to the proper Government departments” and the DUP chairman of Larne DPP, Winston Fulton, said the case for retaining the station will be addressed to the Policing Board.
Chief Supt Noble’s recommendation will be taken to the board by Asst Chief Constable Dave Jones for final decision on disposal. In an open letter to the community in Larne, Mr Noble wrote: “As a result of an estates review during which a range of opinions were canvassed, I have reached the view that Glenarm station is no longer required operationally and have recommended closure.
“I know that many people will be disappointed with this decision; the level of support and emotion for local police officers and Glenarm station was powerfully expressed. However, it reflects the harsh realities of the current financial environment and the need for policing, like health, education and other public services, to live within their means.”
The local commander said he was faced with two “critical” considerations that “reflect the challenges of policing in 2012”.
He summarised the questions: “First, is this station absolutely necessary to deliver policing, recognising that nearly all policing services are delivered outside its buildings? Second, will saving the money that we currently spend on this building assist me in doing all I can to protect the numbers of police officers, especially neighbourhood officers, who serve this local area?”
Mr Noble added: “My decision reflects not only the current challenges facing policing but also recognises that even more challenging times lie ahead. So to summarise, unless a station is operationally critical to the delivering of policing in this District then I have chosen to protect police officers over police stations. Whilst I take no pleasure in making this recommendation, it is my responsibility as a professional police officer to take it.”
Mr Noble offered an assurance that the proposed closure “does not equate with a reduction in service”. He maintained: “Overall levels of reported crime in Northern Ireland are at 12-year low and in Larne, overall recorded crime has fallen over the last 12 months. This reduction has been delivered by the public working in partnership with police officers, not by police buildings.”
However, Ald Fulton described Glenarm as “the forgotten village”, adding that when the DPP was told of the recommendation at its final private meeting, “it was felt that the decision to close had been made before the issue went out to consultation”.
He stated: “A lot of views were put forward, but it seems that the police were not interested in what the public had to say. However, the DPP has written to the Policing Board to make the case again for the station to stay open, as it is a comfort to local people, even if it is open for only a few hours.”
Roy Beggs said: “I would be concerned that police officers will now have to spend a considerably longer time travelling up and down to Larne PSNI station, making it more difficult to spend time on the ground in the coastal areas of Glenarm and Carnlough.
“The primary reason for closure put forward is financial, yet the police’s own figures reveal that running and maintenance costs for Glenarm are minimal in overall terms. I believe the potential loss of public confidence is a price which is not worth paying. I would hope that even at this stage the PSNI and the Policing Board would show a willingness to look imaginatively at suggestions to make the police station a community building, with continued police surgeries combined with wider community use.”
Oliver McMullan urged that the site “should now be used for the benefit of the entire community”. He added: “It is quite clear that the PSNI will go ahead with the closure after the consultation process. Major stake holders in the community need to now start the process of deciding what should be best use of the site. Local politicians need to get behind the community in putting proposals forward to the proper Government departments.”
At Monday’s meeting of the development committee in Smiley Buildings, Larne Council also agreed to write to the Policing Board to reinforce its opposition to the closure.
Alderman Jack McKee told members: “The people of the village spoke out against the closure, but it seems their views were not taken on board. Why should we lie down and make it easy for the police? We should make strong representations to the board for the station to remain open. It may not work, but at least we will have done our duty as a council.”
Councillor Maureen Morrow added: “With so much rural crime in the area the village needs a police station. It is there to support rural dwellers and we need to fight their corner.”
However, Councillor Brian Dunn disagreed with his colleagues and said: “While I regret the decision, it is not a popularity poll. The decision was taken on an operational basis. Mr Noble looked at the situation from his own professional point of view and feels this is what is best.”