A ROW over the future of Solihull police station has heightened between rival police commissioner candidates ahead of elections in 2021.
This week (September 7), borough MP Julian Knight launched his second petition to resist proposals by West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson to close the Homer Road station.
Mr Knight has partnered with Jay Singh-Sohal, the Conservative candidate to be the region’s next PCC, to pledge to stop the closure.
Plans to sell off the building this year, intended to save £5 million and protect dozens of officer jobs, were agreed by Mr Jamieson in 2018. As his term comes to an end in 2021, debate has been reignited over a proposed sale.
PCC elections are delayed by a year owing to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Knight said: “I have been fighting to save Solihull Police Station for years, and as I have said time and again, a ‘front desk’ is not an adequate replacement for a fully-staffed police station, especially not in a growing town like Solihull which was until recently served by two.
“Residents here want real community-based policing, not to be left reliant on a ‘flying squad’ based in Birmingham.
“It is unacceptable that the current PCC is presiding over a system where stations in outlying boroughs are half-empty whilst more central ones are protected.
“It is also unacceptable that as the Government is increasing police recruitment, with hundreds of additional local officers already being funded, there are these plans to close our station.
“Residents want to keep policing local, with a proper police station at the heart of our community. Yet the current Labour Commissioner wants to shut community police stations – while he has spent millions on his own lavish HQ and police station in Birmingham City Centre.”
“The Labour PCC’s silence on this issue is deafening,” Mr Knight said. “He needs to make clear that his original plan to close Solihull police station was a catastrophic error and would leave one of the West Midlands’ most vibrant boroughs prey to criminals as never before.
Mr Singh-Sohal has said he will freeze planned station closures if he is elected as the next PCC.
He said: “Communities across the region are desperate to keep their police stations and the local police presence they bring. They have been sharing with me their fears of what losing their local stations will mean. Crime is ever-increasing and surrendering our stations would incentivise criminals and do more harm.
“I entered the PCC race to stop police station closures because I know just how vital they are to keeping people safe and deterring criminals. I know I can do more with the police stations we have, and I will invest in them to benefit the communities they serve.
“The argument that these closures will save money simply does not wash for taxpayers who are paying more in policing precept annually. Nor is it acceptable or fair for taxpayers in some areas to lose their police stations while new builds and refurbishments are funded elsewhere.”
Responding to Mr Knight’s petition, PCC David Jamieson said talks are continuing about ways to ensure a permanent police presence in Solihull.
“We have lost over 2,000 officers since 2010 and are only due to get just over half of them back,” replied Mr Jamieson. “Police buildings have to be downsized because of government cuts, nevertheless it is likely that the estates programme will be delayed by the coronavirus crisis.
“Due to the huge cuts we have faced over the last decade we have had to prioritise officer numbers over largely empty buildings. It is a shame that many people who supported and voted for cuts to policing are now complaining about the consequences of them.
“I have been very clear on the future of Solihull Police Station, there will be a police station in the centre of Solihull, with a front desk which is accessible to the public.
“Unless there are creative ideas around how we use Solihull Police station that base will have to be smaller and potentially somewhere else in the town centre.
“By downsizing we are saving taxpayers money and able to protect officer numbers, rather than having empty buildings and fewer officers.”