CHRISTCHURCH police station could close – with ‘no guarantee’ it will be replaced with another station.
The multi-million pound Bargates site, which also includes the old Magistrates court, could be sold off by Dorset and Christchurch councils.
And Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill has refused to make a commitment to replace it with another station.
"We are trying to shrink our estate - I can't guarantee there will be a police station in Christchurch" he told the Daily Echo.
"There will definitely be a police presence in Christchurch, as in every other town in the county, but as to whether there will be a police station, I can't commit to that."
Plans have been discussed for years by councillors and officers to redevelop the town centre site – at one time a supermarket was suggested as an option.
Mr Underhill stressed Christchurch police station has not been declared surplus to operational requirements.
But he said: “There are undoubted opportunities to rationalise the estate to take advantage of developments in policing such as mobile data, improved communications and partnership working.”
He said on-going cuts to the police budget make it essential to ensure buildings are optimised and in the best location to meet operational demands.
Highcliffe police station in Lymington Road was closed in 2010.
Chief Constable Debbie Simpson confirmed that alternative uses for the Christchurch site are being examined but added: “Any solution must include the continued provision for the police in a suitable location which continues to meet the operational needs of the town.
“By working with partners it is hoped that better use of public buildings can be achieved which will improve the police’s ability to support the public and concentrate resources on the frontline.
“It costs the force £6.44m a year to run the Dorset Police estate and, while there will always be a requirement for specialist facilities such as custody suites, the review has established that we need to minimise our estate.
“The force estate continues to be reviewed in order to meet the financial challenges and operational demands that the police face.”
Cllr Ray Nottage, leader of Christchurch Council, said they would be working with Dorset Police and the PCC to ensure a police presence would continue in a ‘suitable location’ in Christchurch.
But Christchurch Borough and Dorset County councillor David Jones said: "I am very concerned by this.
"The words 'continued provision for the police' are very vague and could indicate simply a police box-type of presence.
"It is crucial that the people of Christchurch be told exactly what proposals there are to continue a police presence."
Chairman of West Christchurch Residents Association, Jim Biggin, said: “People want to see a police presence – more officers.
“A public police presence is much more important than the existence of a station and if we can increase that, I think people will feel safe.”
Nigel Cook, chairman of Christchurch Citizens’ Association, said it was important to see a permanent base for officers in the town centre.
“While I accept a different building might be more cost-effective, there does need to be somewhere people can go to talk to an officer in confidence”, he said.
“It needs to be somewhere permanent, with convenient opening hours for people to visit if they need to talk to someone – home visits would not be adequate.”
The news has also prompted criticism from residents who fear crime could rise if the police station is closed.
Alison Broughall, 55, a health care assistant from Boscombe who works in Christchurch, said: “It would be such a shame not to have a local police station. The police are in the community here. They know the people and are aware of any problems.”
Pat Smith, who has lived in Christchurch for 60 years, said: “It is nice to know that the police are there. It makes you feel safer. I have lived here a long time and I didn’t think this would ever happen.”
Justine Blunden, 44, a letting negotiator from Ferndown who works in Christchurch, said: “The beat officers sometimes pop into our office and it helps create a community feel having them so close. They have helped us in the past with vulnerable people and it is so much easier having them just across the road.”
Andrea Lemon, 52, a sales assistant from Christchurch, said: “If they closed down the police station it might encourage more crime in the area. I would be concerned about where people would go if there was a problem and no police station to go to.”
Background on the Bargates site
The future of the Bargates site, which includes the police station and Christchurch’s former magistrates’ court, has been under discussion for many years.
In 2012, the land was previously put forward as a possible site for a supermarket, as part of applications for three other food stores.
But until now, little progress has been made, with a spokesperson for the site, saying earlier this year that talks were still ongoing and ‘limited progress’ had been made.
The landowners include Dorset County Council, Christchurch Borough Council, Dorset Police and the Hospital of the Mary Magdalen Trust.
A recent planning application for a Morrison’s supermarket at Beagle Technology earlier this year, referred to the site saying, “At this current stage, there is less certainty regarding the availability of the site in comparison to May 2012.”
The planning report added: “Whilst the magistrates’ court site could accommodate a food store, it is currently unclear whether the site will be available within a reasonable time frame.”