OVER the past 10 years many Dorset residents have seen their local police station close.

From village stations to large sites serving the conurbation's busiest areas, there have been many changes to the force's estate.

No fewer than six police stations have closed across the Daily Echo's Dorset circulation area since 2010.

And while one had its replacement built nearby, the others have gone unreplaced or seen police share sites with other authorities.

The stations that have closed are Boscombe, Bournemouth’s old site, Christchurch, Gravel Hill, Highcliffe and Swanage.

But what has become of these sites and what are the reasons given by Dorset Police for the closures.

‘Foothold in the community’

Dorset Police said it accepted that some people prefer to have a police station but said “accessibility” to the force is now broader than ever before.

A spokesman said partnering and co-locating – sharing sites – with other public services is a key principle of the Government’s plan to make best use of public money. As a result the force seeks out “all opportunities to work collaboratively with other emergency, health and local authority organisations”.

The situation in Christchurch was put forward as an example of such theory in action, with police leaving the station in Bargates and now sharing a space at the fire station in Fairmile Road Dorset Police said this enhanced the “excellent joint-working” between the two services and freed up land for development – we’ll come back to that later.

The force spokesman said: “Dorset Police understands that the physical presence of a police station is seen as a solid and reassuring icon and foothold in the community so we always strive to place our buildings at the heart of communities, whether in our towns or rural locations.

“Clearly, throughout the past decade, Government austerity reduced police budgets and difficult decisions were taken to prioritise the retention of officers and staff over bricks and mortar – often in the shape of aging and unused buildings.”

They added: “In every case where an enquiry desk has closed, the force retains a physical footprint with neighbourhood teams continuing to work in the local area, providing services in shared spaces, often alongside emergency services, such as in fire stations.”

Mapped out

Police say that a “careful geographic analysis” has ensured no Dorset resident is further than 10 miles away from a police station.

The force says sites where stations closed often did not have enough footfall to make their operation sustainable in terms of staffing.

“We remain committed to providing the best possible service to the public while considering our available budget and the approach has ensured a wide policing footprint throughout the county,” said the Dorset Police spokesman.

“Public facing enquiry offices are available at Bournemouth, Poole, Weymouth, Bridport, Blandford, Sherborne and Gillingham, with a non-emergency reception post at Swanage Town Hall.

“This process of prioritisation has improved force operations overall, with station desk officers redeployed to busier enquiry office locations where they can deal with many more members of the public.”

Dorset Police said a recent survey reported that “the majority of those who responded said they would rather speak to us on the phone, email or online”.

The force said improvements had been made in the ways it interacts with the public, more officers had been recruited and investments had been made in mobile technology.

There has also been a “dramatically improved” answer time on the force’s 101 service, according to the force.


So, what has happened to the police station sites that have closed over the past 10 years?


Bournemouth Echo:

While still used by the force, the site in Gloucester Road has not operated as a police station since April 2016.

Its use changed to serve as an office space for police.

In late 2015, Boscombe Neighbourhood Policing Team (NPT) began working from the hub in Christchurch Road, which was previously occupied by Argos, alongside the Boscombe regeneration team.

At the time, the force said this new space provided an improved location for the NPT, however, it did not include a desk enquiry service, meaning the nearest traditional station service for Boscombe residents was now at Bournemouth Police Station in Madeira Road.

Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill said the move would “improve the visible policing presence in Boscombe and will help to regenerate the town centre”.

Bournemouth (old site)

Bournemouth Echo:

Finding any signs of the former police station presence at Madeira roundabout are currently hard to come by.

However, you don’t have to walk far to find the new station just round the corner.

The former Bournemouth policing base, which backed on to magistrates’ and coroner’s courts in Stafford Road, closed in March 2011 after officers relocated to the new building the previous year.

Now work is well underway on redeveloping the premium town centre site into a new free school.

A £28.5million transformation project is set to see Livingstone Academy open in September 2021.

The magistrates’ court area is being turned into a primary school, the coroner’s court will become a sixth form and the police station will be cleared to create an art secondary school complete with multi-sports facilities.

At present, the land very much resembles a building site.


Bournemouth Echo:

The most recent police station closure in Dorset involves the large and prominent site in Christchurch town centre.

It presents another site where a police station was located next to a magistrates’ court, however both now seem a distant memory.

Officers fully vacated the Bargates location in September 2017, although its operation as a station with a public counter ceased in March 2015.

Police made the short move to the fire station in Fairmile Road where they remain to this day.

Dorset Police said the move followed requests from site owners Dorset County and Christchurch Borough councils - both authorities were abolished in 2019 when there was a major councils merger.

At the time, assistant chief officer John Jones said: “All police officers and staff based at the former station have moved to the new facility, where they will continue to operate from.

“The move is the culmination of many years work between the councils and the police.”

The dilapidated former police station was targeted by vandals on many occasions, however, it is due to be flattened, with the land making up part of a major development project.

Aster Homes’ scheme for the site, which was approved by BCP Council’s planning committee in November 2020, will see 130 homes built alongside sheltered accommodation and community facilities.

The development has proved controversial as it will see the loss of two town centre car parks, with concerns Christchurch’s traffic congestion problems will only get worse as a result of the project.

Gravel Hill

Bournemouth Echo:

Anyone who has driven down Canford Heath Road from the Darby’s Corner roundabout could be forgiven for not knowing they have gone by the site of a former police station.

Gravel Hill Police Station closed in October 2012 and, after some delays, developers completed a residential redevelopment of the site.

The now abolished Borough of Poole local authority worked with Poole Housing Partnership to bring forward three blocks of accommodation in the form of 62 flats, including six support accommodation flats. The project was completed in 2019.

Bournemouth Echo:

Force operations in Poole are now all based, in terms of a physical presence, at the police station in the joint emergency services building in Wimborne Road. The old police station at the Civic Centre closed in 2009.


Bournemouth Echo:

The residential block aptly named Peel House now sits on the site where Highcliffe Police Station was for 56 years before is closed its doors in July 2011.

Speculation over the future of the police station in Lymington Road surfaced four years before its eventual closure, but at the time Cllr John Lofts attempted to scotch rumours the facility would be shutting in the village.

In 2007, a Dorset Police spokesperson said: “The issue of selling Highcliffe police station will only be considered when a suitable alternative site can be found.

"We will be maintaining a police presence in Highcliffe."

When the site did close, Highcliffe NPT moved to Christchurch Day Centre, which is further along Lymington Road.

Plans were soon put in to redevelop the police station and Christchurch Borough Council’s planning committee approved proposals for a block of six flats in October 2012.

This scheme from Zebra Property Solutions Ltd was carried out and led to the site’s current appearance.


Bournemouth Echo:

More than eight years have passed since the doors slammed shut for the final time at Swanage Police Station.

The facility opened way back in 1889 and evidence of its history can be seen from standing outside the Argyle Road premises.

At the time of its closure, Dorset Police said the force needed more modern facilities nearer to the town centre.

This led to a joint premises with Swanage Town Council, called Swanage Pathway, which is based in the annex of the town hall.

Services that had operated at the police station, such as document production, bail registration and surrender of firearms, were moved to Wareham.

The former police station building has not been redeveloped since it closed in late 2012.

Bournemouth Echo:

Plans to make alterations and extensions to convert the building to six homes were approved by Purbeck District Council’s planning committee in December 2016.

More recently, the same applicant sought permission to make changes to these plans and this application was approved in December 2020, meaning work could be underway sooner rather than later.


Future closures?

In an interview earlier this year, Dorset Police Constable James Vaughan told the Daily Echo that some of the challenges for the force in the Covid pandemic had driven changes in how officers and staff carried out some of their roles.

Bournemouth Echo: Chief Constable James Vaughan

He said the lessons of this experience could play a part in how Dorset Police considers its estate going forward.

When asked if there were plans for station closures in the years ahead, the force spokesperson said: “No police stations have been closed since 2015 and, at present, there are no closure plans, but as part of an ongoing review of the police estate, the force will seek to ensure that the best use is made of resources, that buildings are optimised and located in the most operationally suitable locations.

“As we respond to and recover from the pandemic, investment in IT infrastructure can allow a successful move to a new way of working which embraces technology and promotes more flexible working.

“We need to ensure that our bricks and mortar assets can respond to this transition with the accommodation that is prepared for this change to smarter working principles fit for the 21st century.”