EVENING News readers have delivered a forceful message to police chiefs to think again on their controversial plans to close police station counters.
Almost 1200 people have backed the Save Our Stations campaign by signing petitions, writing letters or returning protest coupons.
The massive response comes as Chief Constable Sir Stephen House admitted the police’s own much-criticised consultation had produced just 69 replies from members of the public across Scotland.
The Evening News linked up with MSPs Kezia Dugdale and Iain Gray to deliver the responses to Police Scotland’s Edinburgh headquarters at St Leonard’s police station.
The huge number of names will increase the pressure on police chiefs to look again at the plans to close ten police stations in Edinburgh and the Lothians to the public and slash the opening hours of seven more.
Ms Dugdale said: “I believe in community policing and I think people should be able to access police support whenever they want it, which means being able to walk into a police station. People want to speak to a police officer and a phone number isn’t enough.”
The stations set to lose their counters are Craigmillar, Corstorphine, Oxgangs, Balerno, South Queensferry, Bonnyrigg, Tranent, Linlithgow, Armadale and West Calder. In Craigmillar and Corstorphine, the police propose alternative contact points in the community hubs, based in local libraries, but have not said when or how long they will be open. No alternative services have yet been proposed in the other areas.
Mr Gray said: “Tranent is one of the biggest towns in East Lothian. People need to have confidence that if they need a police officer they know exactly where and how to get hold of them. Right now they can do that by walking into Tranent police station. It’s clear that’s a service people want continued.”
Mr Gray collected around 200 petition signatures in East Lothian and Ms Dugdale got 188 responses to a letter she circulated in Portobello where the station counter’s hours are due to be cut.
One of the biggest tallies of signatures on the Save Our Stations petition came from Craigmillar Post Office in Niddrie Mains Road.
Assistant manager Kat Barron said elderly people in particular had been keen to sign the Evening News petition.
She said: “Older people are worried about how they are going to get in touch with the police and there are concerns about moving the police to the library and what functions they are planning for that.”
MPs, MSPs and councillors have backed the Evening News campaign, as have community council leaders and victims of crime. The Federation of Small Businesses warned counter closures could undermine efforts to breathe new life into high streets and sever a link between the police and local businesses.
But when MSPs quizzed the chief constable on the police’s own consultation on the proposals he revealed that by yesterday’s deadline they had received 51 responses from elected representatives, two from local authorities, four from community councils and 69 from members of the public.
Tory justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said: “Sixty-nine is not a resounding figure and I don’t think it’s because the public don’t care so I would ask Police Scotland to look at the consultation again.”
Asked what the force had done to engage with the public, Sir Stephen said he had given a lot of media interviews. He referred to the Evening News campaign and said it had generated “quite a few” e-mails.
Sir Stephen said anyone who read a paper or listened to radio or TV would know there was a consultation.
But Christine Grahame, convener of Holyrood’s policing sub-committee, said: “Is that not more a response to the fact it was a bit of a blundered announcement of the consultation and it was presented as stations closing? I think what the committee is getting at is you should have been in control of it, done it in a more measured fashion over a longer period.”
Labour justice spokesman Graeme Pearson quoted a 200-strong survey in Portobello which found 95 per cent were opposed to the Police Scotland cuts. Sir Stephen said: “I’m not surprised you have 95 per cent come back and say ‘I want more and I oppose cuts’. It’s human nature that if people are asked ‘do you want more of something or do you want less?’, they will say they want more.”
Sir Stephen told the Scottish Parliament’s policing sub-committee he had launched a public consultation on the counter closures although he did not have to.
He said: “We realised people would be concerned about this. That’s why we had a consultation. We could simply have said to every divisional commander ‘Look at opening hours and change them locally to what you think seems fit’ and we wouldn’t have made a fuss about it. Instead we have gone out to the public with a consultation, but obviously the focus has been on the reductions.”
Sir Stephen said late comments would still be taken into account. He said: “We are not pressing the button on some decision tomorrow. We will be looking at this for the next four to six weeks.”
• Save Our Stations petitions and coupons can still be returned to: 108 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AS.
Chief constable ‘has no problem with sauna policy’
SCOTLAND’S chief constable has said he has “no problem” with Edinburgh’s tolerant attitude to saunas and does not want to change the council’s policy.
Sir Stephen House rejected claims he was trying to impose Glasgow policing policies on the Capital but told MSPs the force would continue to carry out licensing checks on saunas.
Appearing before Holyrood’s policing sub-committee Sir Stephen, who was previously chief constable of Strathclyde, was challenged by convener Christine Grahame on the alleged “Glasgowfication” of policing in the Capital following last week’s attempts to block licences for city saunas.
Ms Grahame said: “There were concerns when you took over that we’d get Strathclyde policing writ large and there is no bigger example of that perhaps than the sauna saga in Edinburgh.
“It seems to me and others that the recent examples before Edinburgh licensing was a culture change out of the blue that seemed to be the West of Scotland trampling into Edinburgh.”
But Sir Stephen dismissed the criticism, saying: “I have no issue with Edinburgh City Council’s approach to saunas, none at all. I didn’t come into office with a view of sorting this out and making everywhere like Glasgow. If the council wants to operate a different system they can.”
He insisted there had not been a change of approach by the police, pointing to previous cases where police had reported contraventions at saunas. “There has been a history of intervention and reports to the licensing committee,” he said.
How you can help
Back the campaign by displaying a poster and signing the petition, which is already available to sign at several locations including:
• The Mill at St Joseph’s, the cafe beside Balerno Parish Church;
• Balerno Garage Ltd, Deanpark Brae;
• Sideburns Barber Shop, Oxgangs Broadway, Oxgangs;
• Craigmillar Post Office, Niddrie Mains Road.
To receive a petition and poster e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0131-620 8733, or call into the offices at 108 Holyrood Road.
Email the following to SoS@edinburghnews.com along with your name and address
“Dear Sir Stephen House,
I want my local police station to stay open to the public. Please think again.”