POLICE chiefs are set to close the public counters at four Lothian stations while others will have opening hours reduced as part of the force’s latest cost-cutting measures.
The police stations at Newbattle, Gorebridge and Loanhead in Midlothian, and the station in Prestonpans in East Lothian, will no longer be open to members of the public for reporting crimes.
Stations in Bonnyrigg, Tranent, Dunbar, North Berwick, Broxburn and Whitburn will also see opening hours for front counters cut by as much as seven hours a day.
Police chiefs said the move had come as few people were visiting stations, with Newbattle receiving an average of just two visitors a day.
But the plans raised concerns that the removal of services could be seen as “a first step towards the eventual closure of some of the stations”.
The plans, put forward in a report by Chief Constable David Strang, come up from approval by the police board on Monday, and at least one board member plans to try to block the closure of the Prestonpans station.
In a bid to reduce the impact of the closures, officers in East Lothian and Midlothian are set to deploy “mobile police counters” to provide alternative points of contact.
A relief team of station assistants will also be created to man counters at some locations, at a cost of £70,281 a year, while the closures and reduction of hours is expected to save the force £334,721 annually.
Councillor Peter Mackenzie, who represents East Lothian Council on the police board, said: “Whilst I fully understand the need for all public sector organisations to ensure they’re providing the best level of service in the most efficient way, this is not a decision I can support.
“I know that local people are not happy about the closure of Prestonpans.
“I intend to suggest alternative strategies at the board meeting, including a reduction in hours at Prestonpans instead of a closure or the possibility of having a police presence at the council offices in the town.”
In East Lothian, the stations at Tranent, Dunbar and North Berwick would open between 10am and 6pm from Monday to Friday. The public counter in Musselburgh would open between 8am and 4pm on Monday, 8am and 11pm from Tuesday to Friday, and 10am to 6pm on Saturday.
Councillor Derek Milligan, leader of Midlothian Council, said: “We have concerns that the proposed closures of some police station front desks may be viewed by the public as a first step towards the eventual closure of some of the stations.”
Dalkeith police station, which has an average of 23 visits a day, will remain open between 7am and 12am from Monday to Friday, and 8am to 8pm on Sunday. In Penicuik, the new hours would be 8am to 4pm on Monday, 8am to 11pm between Tuesday and Friday, and 10am to 6pm on Saturday.
West Lothian is the least affected by the changes, with Bathgate station staying open between 7am and 11pm from Monday to Friday and 9am to 5pm on Saturday, while stations in Broxburn and Whitburn will open from 9am to 5pm from Monday to Friday.
Councillor Peter Johnston, leader of West Lothian Council, said: “[The] council supports our police partners in these proposals, which realigns services to target resources where they are needed most.”
Chief Superintendent Mark Williams, divisional commander for East Lothian and Midlothian, said: “Station front counters are no longer the way that the public gets in contact with us. The public are contacting us by phone and the internet. As a result, a number of counters are dealing with very small numbers of people but have an associated cost.
“In this age of austerity we have a responsibility to deliver the best service we can alongside a balanced budget.”