Saffron Walden police station to stay after new plans announced

Saffron Walden police station was affected by chemical fumes

Saffron Walden police station was affected by chemical fumes - Credit: Archant

Saffron Walden will be the only police station in Uttlesford to remain open to the public after April under new plans announced on Tuesday (October 6) by Essex Police.

The town’s station is one of just 10 that will stay open across the county. Fifteen are set to close in cuts described by the force as “unprecedented savings”.

The front desk at the station is currently open from noon to 6pm, Monday to Saturday, but the new proposals will see it open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday from next year.

The wide-ranging plans are part of a drive to tackle £63million worth of savings to the force’s budget by 2020. Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh and Essex Police and Crime Commissioner Nick Alston outlined the future of the force in a press conference on Tuesday.

Mr Kavanagh said: “People will worry about buildings but they don’t keep people safe, our officers do. We are getting rid of buildings which have more rodents than officers inside.”

He added; “Community policing will look very different. We are moving from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘need to have’ service.

“We must still respond to the most vulnerable.”

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The proposed strategy means reducing the number of front counters at stations across Essex from 25 to 10 by April, cutting front desk jobs in the county from 98 to 36.

The new locations have been determined through geography and footfall, and research carried out over two separate months showed that 551 people visited Saffron Walden’s front counter as opposed to 376 visitors to Great Dunmow, which is one of the stations earmarked for closure.

A new police headquarters in Chelmsford is also to be built, and the current 20-acre site in Springfield, Chelmsford, which costs £2.5m annually to run, is to be sold for housing.

Stations with front counters will remain in Saffron Walden, Harlow, Chelmsford, Braintree, Maldon, Colchester, Clacton, Grays, Basildon and Southend, while Loughton, Brentwood, Rayleigh, Harwich and Canvey Island will stay as operational bases.

Stations at Hatfield Heath and Stansted Mountfitchet, which have both been closed to the public for some time, are to be sold under the proposals.

Uttlesford District Commander Chief Inspector Richard Melton said: “Local policing remains at the very heart of what Essex Police does. However, in the face of having to make unprecedented savings, we must change in order to meet those challenges.

“People are, understandably, attached to their police stations and view them as an integral part of their community. But the stark reality is although people are sentimental about their police stations, many are seriously under-used by the public while being expensive to maintain and no longer fit for a modern day police force.

“I appreciate that these are tough messages for residents to hear, but Essex Police must take tough decisions to secure the future of the force.

I can reassure residents of the whole Uttlesford district that their officers will continue to be visible in their community, serving victims, catching criminals and providing emergency support.”

The force has also proposed to slash the number of PCSO posts in Essex from 250 to 60, with 20 of the 27 PCSO roles in Uttlesford and Braintree expected to go.

Union bodies described the announcement as a “sad day for Essex Police”, and warned that more cuts could be yet to come.

John Watts, secretary of the Essex Police Unison branch, which represents PCSOs and police staff, said: “It is a very sad day for Essex Police.

“PCSOs at the moment are the frontline as far as the public are concerned.

“We are realistic. We know in times of austerity public sector jobs are at risk and we knew there would be a reduction in PSCOs. But if all the savings didn’t have to be made by April this could have been done by natural wastage.

“Essex Police will still be recruiting officers, and PCSOs are trained up to a certain level. We will lose those skills as they are forced to look for other jobs.”

Mark Smith, chairman of the Essex branch of the Police Federation, added: “I am not surprised because we have been saying cuts have consequences, and they are far-reaching.

“If going down to 10 police stations means keeping more officers on the frontline I welcome it. They are the ones out there doing the job.

“I feel very sorry for PCSOs and support staff, and it seems to me their sacrifice is to save money to keep officers.

“If the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review comes back with more cuts all of this could be looked at again, it would be a brand new ball game. Then you might see officer numbers drop.”

Saffron Walden Town Mayor Heather Asker said: “I’m hugely relieved that it is staying open. It’s a vital part of the community and it is important that Saffron Walden has a station in the town.

“However, I am very disappointed at the news that Dunmow is set to close and the situation with the PCSO’s is beyond belief. I can’t help but feel it’s a false economy.

“It is good news that the station will remain in Saffron Walden, yet I do feel that little thought has been given to serving what is a growing population.”