The PSNI’s strategy to modernise and rationalise the police estate in Northern Ireland is leading to visible improvements, although there is still much work left to do, according to the National Audit Office. The plans to refurbish and build police stations, and review the need for others, are being taken forward against a challenging background. The security normalisation process and a major restructuring of local government in Northern Ireland are having an impact on the location and status of police buildings. Cost increases and delays to projects are also having an effect on the delivery of the programme.
A legacy of the security situation in Northern Ireland is a police estate with many old and fortified buildings. Over half of the buildings are more than 50 years old and many require work. While the police numbers in Northern Ireland have reduced by a third since 2001, the estate has remained unchanged, and it is larger and more expensive to run than the estates of other police services in the UK.
In May 2005, the Northern Ireland Policing Board approved the five year strategy for the estate. Overall progress to date is mixed. Work should be underway on five out of six planned new stations, but construction has started on only one and is not due to start at a second until early 2007. The remaining four projects are delayed due to the planned restructuring of the police service. However, a new central armoury, archive store and training facility have been completed. PSNI has also “softened” the appearance of some police buildings, including lowering or removing perimeter walls, and removing sentry posts and wire meshing to make buildings more welcoming and accessible.
The Policing Board has approved proposals to close 20 police stations and by the end of November 2006, nine of these stations had been sold for a total of £4 million. Proceeds from the sales will partly fund the modernisation programme.
As its plans are not as advanced as intended at this stage, the PSNI should take stock and establish a clearer view of its long-term needs and set out how these can be met through a programme of timetabled and costed plans, prioritised within available funding.