City chiefs to grill House on police station cuts

Steve Cardownie and Andrew Burns,right,  will hold talks with Sir Stephen House. Picture: Dan Phillips

Steve Cardownie and Andrew Burns,right, will hold talks with Sir Stephen House. Picture: Dan Phillips

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SCOTLAND’S top cop is set to hold crunch talks with city council leaders amid growing anger over the closure of police station counters.

Police Scotland boss Sir Stephen House will be held to task over the issue by council leader Andrew Burns and deputy Steve Cardownie at the City Chambers on Tuesday.

There is growing unrest at the plan to close ten bases, despite the fact the axe-threatened stations are used by 100,000 people a year.

Councillor Cardownie said: “We are aware of the understandable concern about the potential closure of local police stations and we will be asking him about that. There is a good news story on crime – crime levels down, homicides the lowest on record – and I can’t think why the police would want to jeopardise that.”

It comes as support grows for the Evening News’ Save Our Stations campaign, calling on police chiefs to rethink the controversial plans.

The shock proposals could see five stations axed in the Capital, while seven more will have their opening hours cut.

Craigmillar and Corstorphine stations will see their vital operations switched to local neighbourhood hubs.

The proposed changes come ahead of another review of the police estate which could propose closing and selling off some stations.

Cllr Cardownie acknowledged closing the counters is a damaging move.

“I want to put that to him and ask him why he thinks the public will still be safeguarded and people can sleep easy in their beds,” he said.

Cllr Cardownie said the meeting with Sir Stephen had been planned for some time, but said he believes it was happening at an opportune moment.

As such they will also quiz him on fears over the “Glasgowfication” of policing in Edinburgh. A series of raids on saunas and a jump in stop-and-searches have led to claims that Sir Stephen, who was previously chief constable of Strathclyde, is imposing his former force’s policies on the Capital.

Cllr Cardownie added: “We have not had the opportunity to meet Sir Stephen and we’re looking forward to getting his views on how he sees Edinburgh fitting into the scenario for Police Scotland.

“We are aware there is a perception that some of Strathcylde’s policies have made their way through here. We will be asking his views on that.

“We hear anecdotally that things have changed, but it is important we put it directly to him and get his views.”

Also on the agenda will be council plans to cut £500,000 a year from the £2.7 million annual funding it provides for extra community officers.

Cllr Cardownie said: “We are looking for information on how the council’s money is being spent on community policing so it can inform our budget decision in February.

“We have been told officially nothing has changed, but other people are saying they are not seeing the same representation by the police at community council meetings.

“The police say that’s because they are out on the streets instead, but even if it was just a 20-25 minute slot at community council meetings it would mean there was that contact and reporting back.”

Lothian Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said she had supported the introduction of a single police force with assurances that local accountability to communities would be protected.

But she said: “The situation in Edinburgh raises questions over the extent to which elected councillors have a say on local policing priorities, especially where it relates to council-funded officers.

“Given the Scottish Government’s pledge on police numbers, we need to know if they‘ll step in to fund additional officers if Edinburgh, or any other council for that matter, decides to withdraw funding.

“The proposals that police stations across the Lothians are to be closed to the public further erodes confidence that local accountability is being paid more than lip service. Senior police have already issued warnings that Police Scotland is facing a financial tipping point and that their hands are being tied by government policy. It is clear that the closure proposals are about saving money.”

Meanwhile, small business leaders joined the criticism of the counter closure plans. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Scotland argued the move could undermine efforts to breathe new life into high streets and sever a link between the police and local businesses.

FSB Scottish policy convener Andy Willox said: “In July, the Scottish Government said that by diversifying our high streets, we can make them better places to live, work and socialise. In October, we learn of yet another public body choosing to make cutbacks in our towns.

“We’ve written to the Scottish Government to urge them to instruct the public sector to co-ordinate restructuring and get behind their high streets and communities.”

Dale Miller: ‘More important than ever to keep police presence’

FOR the past 12 months I have lived a couple of doors from South Queensferry police station – one of the sites earmarked for closure.

Directly opposite the station on Hopetoun Road, just metres from the village’s High Street, is a very popular Chinese restaurant.

Drivers regularly park on the double yellow lines outside the eatery before going inside to collect their takeaway orders.

It has become a running joke in our household about how there never seems to be a police officer around whenever the illegal parking takes place, which is at least half a dozen times each day.

The station only opens Monday to Friday during regular working hours. The reality is the officers have almost always left for the day whenever a driver decides to flout the rules within spitting distance of the station.

Likewise, when the many pubs and restaurants along the High Street are heaving on a Friday night, and a visible police presence would be welcome, the South Queensferry station remains unmanned.

I would argue alternative – or even increased – hours would be worth considering well before shutting the station altogether. The benefits of an active police station extend far beyond providing a place where people can report crime – the basis on which Police Scotland intend to shut South Queensferry.

Such stations are the bedrock of local communities. They make people feel safer knowing there are police facilities close to hand. I have never felt concerned for my own safety – or that of my family – knowing there is a working police station nearby.

South Queensferry has always felt vibrant and safe. There’s a real community spirit and a sense of co-operation between traders, boosted by an influx of tourists and visitors. Removing the police station will only threaten this.

Network Rail has recently announced plans for guided tours to the top of the Forth Bridge. The move is expected to bring hundreds of thousands of people to the area every year. A new £1.4 billion bridge is also being built just up the road.

I would argue these developments make it more important than ever to have a police presence in South Queensferry.

The remote location could also leave it isolated without a police presence. The Forth separates South Queensferry from Fife, and Edinburgh and Linlithgow are miles away. Losing the village’s police station all adds up to a terrible result for a community the force has vowed to protect.