New police station annoucement this Friday

AN announcment is to be made this Friday confirming the start of work on Ballymoney’s new police station, dispelling concerns the project may have been knocked on the head due to budgetary constraints.

The Times understands a meeting will take place at the current police station at Charlotte Street at which the commencement of the development work at the site will officially be announced.

That meeting will be attended by the PSNI District Commander Chief Superintendent Nigel Goddard, Ballymoney police, District Policing Partnership (DPP) members, Acting Chair of the Policing Board Brian Rea and North Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey who has been the driving force behind the scheme.

Builders are due to be on the site in weeks and the work is expected to take around 18 months to complete.

News of an official confirmation will come as a huge relief to all those who have campaigned for a new police station in Ballymoney for several years, with the current facilities branded “third world” by the manager of the DPP, Jonny Donaghy.

Local political representatives and DPP members had been assured that money had been set aside for the project some time ago.

But concern was growing the new station may not come to fruition due to much-publicised budgetary constraints within the PSNI and the delaying of a meeting in Ballymoney regarding the scheme on two occassions at the turn of this year.

Back in March 2010 the PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott said work was set to begin on Ballymoney’s new multi-million pound police station within the following two months.

He said: “There has been a budget allocated for the new police station and work is due to begin around April/May time.”

Agreeing Area Commander John Magill added: “The money has been set aside and the site has been prepared for Ballymoney Police Station. The facility will be a modern easy on the eye station and illustrates a long term investment in Ballymoney.”

Ballymoney Chief Inspector David Anderson added: “It is a substantial building and full planning permission is in place. We are expecting the contractor to start in April/May, they will demolish the old Westoncroft House which has already been vacated, and then work on the new building can begin.

“It will take around 18 months to build, so we’re looking at a late 2011 completion date.”

However little movement was made and a number of on site meetings with officials including Mr Rea were postponed in recent months fuelling concerns the proposed station plans could be scrapped.

Last month Mr Storey told the Times: “Given the current financial climate and the pressure on all organisations to cut their cloth, it is understandable that there has been concern as to whether or not this station would ever be built.

“I have endeavoured to keep the pressure on the Board and the PSNI so that the much needed new station does not fall foul of the current financial crisis.”

Now the work is due to be rubber-stamped, attention will turn to operational matters.

DUP councillor John Finlay said: “Whilst I welcome the news that Ballymoney is to get a new police station and builders are to be on site within the next few weeks I am deeply concerned that the numbers of police officers are to be cut from 12 to 10.

“I also fear the new station may be closed to the public given the fact that there will not even be enough officers to man the inquiry desk. “This is at a time when the dissident threat is growing and especially when the Chief Constable has expressed his preference for community policing whereby police officers are on the ground within the local community.

“Reducing the number of officers available will have an major impact on the ability of the police station to function effectively and will ultimately reduce the time officers will have to spend out on the ground.

“A police station should be open to the public with officers there at hand to help anyone reporting a crime or seeking help. I fear that there may even be an inability to keep the inquiry desk open because of these cuts.

But Chief Inspector Anderson replied: “We plan to have a contractor commence preliminary site works in the next few weeks to facilitate car parking, etc during the construction phase of the new build.

“It has long been our intention to replace desk bound officers with civilian Support Staff where possible. This will allow officers to fill vacant front line policing posts within H District while maintaining the same level of Community Policing in Ballymoney.

“Ballymoney PSNI station is open to the public from 8am to 8pm every day and we have no plans to change that.”

The Times contacted Mr Storey regarding this Friday’s meeting but he declined to comment.

Report: chris.kilpatrick@jpress.co.uk