Former Essex Police Authority chairman: I will fight tooth and nail to keep a police station in Saffron Walden

Robert Chambers

Robert Chambers - Credit: Archant

Former chairman of Essex Police Authority, Robert Chambers, has said he will “fight tooth and nail” to keep a police station in Saffron Walden.

Rumours have swirled for a while that the town centre hub was at risk of closure but last week Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex, Nick Alston, gave the strongest hint yet that this was a possibility.

Closure could come next year

Former police officer, Doug Perry, a town and district councillor, has also heard a “very strong rumour” from police insiders that the station could be closed by next year.

This was being considered as part of a review of all Essex Police-owned buildings, Mr Alston said, but he stressed no decision had yet been made on Walden’s station – built in 1885.

Mr Chambers, now a senior Uttlesford councillor, was angered by talk of station closures and criticised Mr Alston for not doing more to petition government on the need for police resources.

“I’ve got nothing against him but he’s now the chairman of all the police and crime commissioners in the country and should be fighting government to get more resources to produce more police officers,” said Cllr Chambers, finance chief at Uttlesford District Council.

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“I don’t think Nick knows enough about what I call real policing to be able to come up with ideas about what should be done.

“I think if I had to do something to retain the police station in Saffron Walden I could.”

He added: “I will fight tooth and nail to make sure that Saffron Walden keeps a police station. The town needs one.”

Elected police and crime commissioners replaced the now defunct police authorities following government reforms in 2012.

‘Expensive’ buildings not fit for purpose

Last week Mr Alston admitted to the Reporter that “undoubtedly some stations will close” as part of the police buildings review, citing that “many of the current buildings are old, in need of expensive maintenance and are not fit for the purposes of a modern police force”.

Responding to the remarks by Cllr Chambers, Mr Alston, said: “Police and crime commissioners around the country are deeply engaged in discussions with the government and other stakeholders about the future of police funding. The APCC, the board of which I chair, is coordinating that work.”

He added: “One key challenge for me is that a significant part of the funding for Essex Police comes from the council tax precept.

“The Essex Police Authority previously chose to take the policing precept for Essex Police down to one of the lowest levels of all shire forces in the country.

“I am now dealing as best as I can with the consequences of that, and, however hard it will now be, I and the Chief Constable are determined to leave a legacy of investment in Essex Police.”

‘Emergency services hub’

One of the alternatives were stations to close, Mr Alston said last week, was to look at adopting a model pioneered by other areas in Essex. In Brightlingsea and Tiptree police are sharing a hub with the fire service.

It has previously been suggested that Saffron Walden fire station be relocated out of town – perhaps to a site shared by police and ambulances as an ‘emergency hub’ – but as yet no area of land has been found.

Cllr Chambers pointed to a site between Thaxted Road and Radwinter Road, near to where a new Aldi supermarket is being built, or off Thaxted Road where a new development for up to 300 homes has been proposed as potential ideas.

He also said he did not believe there would any special constables “in a few years’ time”, an impression he had got during discussions on the Essex Police and Crime Panel, of which Cllr Chambers is a member.

“When I left the police authority there were around 3,000 officers in Essex. That will be down to 2,900 within the next 12 months – a loss of 700 officers.

“In a few years’ time I don’t think there will be any PCSOs at all,” Cllr Chambers added.