First St John's Wood and Marylebone police counters have closed: Now Harrow Road station in the firing line
To no-one's surprise, the issue of police station and counter closures failed to feature in Boris Johnson's election manifesto last year. Neither did the fact that there will be fundamental changes to Safer Neighbourhood Policing, nor the fact that there have already been significant cuts in local police numbers already. Westminster's total policing strength is, for example, down by 202 since 2012, a 12% fall.
But a few months on, the next wave of cuts to hit the Metropolitan Police are a reality.
Boris's police committee has just announced the closure of 65 stations and police station counters in London, confirming the closure of St John's Wood and Marylebone, where decisions have already been made, and now proposing the closure of Harrow Road police station as well . While other stations,(including Paddington Green), will have their opening hours reduced.
The argument will be made that ‘boots on the street' are more important than bricks and mortar, and that reporting crime is nowadays done more frequently on-line or by phone, thus reducing the need for traditional police counters. Both of these are true, but they also miss a broader point. Of course the way we police our city should change over time, and better use must be made of the physical estate, not least through sharing of premises with say the Council or the NHS. Police stations first located in an area a century ago may now, as the world has changed around them no longer be either physically fit for purpose or logically located. However that doesn't mean that a physical presence in a community is no longer important. Whether we are talking about the police, council, NHS, housing management or even the voluntary sector and private institutions such as banks, the community notices their withdrawal and is the poorer for it. And, of course, the poorer the neighbourhood, to start with, the greater the impact of being ‘out of sight and out of mind'. Westminster council and other agencies, such as housing associations already have a much smaller footprint in North Westminster than they did until recently - The One Stop services in Harrow Road and Church Street are gone, as has the Council House on Marylebone Road,. Funding for neighbourhood offices has vanished and fewer services are run from Children's Centres. Even the Jubilee Sports Centre will close in favour of a new facility technically over the border in Brent. With St John's Wood and now Harrow Road Police Stations closing, the footprint of local services shrinks further.
We have already been advised that response policing teams are to be based right in the south of the borough, in Belgravia. Can we really be confident that this in itself won't slow the response times in the north, and that it won't increase the tendency to go back to policing from an often fast-moving vehicle. Something we thought we had moved away from as Safer Neighbourhood Teams were introduced 8 years ago and which subsequently proved so successful.
Following last week's MOPAC announcement, the exact shape of safer neighbourhood policing seems open to question, with much smaller core teams attached to specific local wards, but backed by a larger and more mobile facility. The important question is, though, where will these police operate from? For if they too start and end their shifts well away from the communities they serve, they will lose vital links, vital connections and vital credibility.
As for the reporting arrangements intended to replace the closed police station counters, we lack hard information on which to base a judgement: how many will there be, where, and what kind of service they will provide? Will there be a guaranteed budget to secure their long term future, or will they vanish as soon as they begin, like the ‘contact point' once set up to serve the Mozart estate? Will privacy be a factor, or will reporting crime or making a personal contact with the police be regarded as a transaction no different to buying a coffee? And if so, do we mind? Or do we want some safeguards built in the proposed changes ?
Without knowing the answers to these questions, and without proper, costed information in front of us, the ‘consultation' exercise now underway is seriously flawed.
The West End has always dragged attention and resources away from the residential north of the borough. There is a real danger that this distortion will become yet more marked if the centre of gravity of policing also shift away. We must make our voice heard before we fall even further behind.
You can have YOUR SAY:
31st January, 5pm
275 Oxford St
Or by responding to the consultation, or be letting me know your views.
Karen Buck MP
P.S. Basement survey/Harrow Road local environment survey
Thanks to the many of you who have completed my surveys about basement developments and about the Harrow Road retail and local environment. We are currently analysing the responses and will be reporting shortly.