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Police to shut office in Blackbird Leys
BLACKBIRD Leys police office – set up less than three years ago to tackle crime on Oxford’s largest estate – is to close.
Community leaders last night reacted with anger to the news and said they feared crime would rise.
The building, off Blackbird Leys Road, was leased from its owner NHS Oxfordshire with officers moving in during April 2010 after more than 18 months of negotiations.
But Thames Valley Police said the base was too large and the rent of £12,000 a year too expensive.
It housed the team’s five neighbourhood officers and five Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs), before the team expanded to merge with Littlemore and Rose Hill in July.
Blackbird Leys Parish Council chairman Gordon Roper said: “We fought hard to get that station and now it is going to disappear. They said there would be no cuts to front-line policing and they would save police for the streets. Well as far as I am concerned it doesn’t look like that at all.
“The parish council is fuming over it. It took us such a long time to get the office there – over three years. It was also somewhere residents knew about and could see, somewhere they could pop in.”
Although the office was not meant to be an official drop-in place, Blackbird Leys councillor Val Smith said it was often used as such.
Mrs Smith said: “We don’t just think this is a nice thing to have, it is essential. I can’t tell you just how much things have improved from having it there.
“We are making representations to the police as this is a critical local service to the Leys.”
When it opened, Insp Andy Storey, in charge of policing in the south-east of the city, said: “It’s designed for the team to be able to be out and about more in the community.”
Figures from the Thames Valley Police Authority statement of accounts show plans to more than halve the force’s spending on property from £4.918m in 2011/12 to £2.110m in 2014.
Similar bases were set up on the city’s other housing estates, including Rose Hill and Barton. Police last night said there were no plans to close them. It would not comment on one in Northway or others in the county, including Deddington, Eynsham and Burford.
According to the statement of accounts, leases expiring on force properties in 2012/13 would save the force £1.046m if not renewed. With only 11 weeks left in the financial year, the authority would not state how much it has saved so far.
William Brandon, of Nunnery Close, said the visible loss of police would make the Blackbird Leys estate seem unsafe. The 79-year-old said: “It would be a huge shame to lose it. It’s right there in the middle and you can see that their presence dampens down the trouble.”
Thames Valley Police spokeswoman Rhianne Pope said: “The office in Blackbird Leys is not a front counter and the neighbourhood officers already start and finish their shifts at Cowley Police Station. The current accommodation is far too large for the team and costs more than £12,000 per year.
“The lease will be surrendered in July this year and we are currently working with partners to find alternative accommodation which is more suitable in size and costs less money.
“The visibility of officers patrolling the estate will remain the same. Our priority is to have frontline officers out and about on the ground dealing with the issues that matter to the local community; this is not achieved sat inside an office.”
She could not guarantee a new office would be on the estate.
Police and Crime Commissioner Anthony Stansfeld added: “Protecting frontline policing is a key priority when making any decision.
“Closing the current accommodation in Blackbird Leys is a cost-effective decision which I have been reassured will not affect visible policing in the area.”
Last year Thames Valley Police approved plans for £3.7m-worth of building work at its Kidlington headquaters.
In April the force announced cuts to public access to police stations by up to 70 per cent across Oxfordshire. The scheme aims to save £600,000 by reducing the hours its stations would be open, with several of them being shut on Mondays.
The total number of recorded crimes in Blackbird Leys fell from 338 in October 2011, to 297 in October 2012.