DURHAM’S Acting Police Crime and Victim’s Commissioner (PCVC) has defended a decision to close existing custody suites on the force’s estate as part of plans to create a new centralised facility.

Steve White assured members of public the proposals would not take bobbies off the beat, saying that to delay the plans could end up costing the tax payer more.

He said: “I was appointed by the police and crime panel, who hold me to account. It would be a dereliction of my duty to simply defer difficult decisions that would have a significant operational impact on the force and the state of its efficiency and effectiveness.

READ MORE: Custody suite closures in County Durham and Darlington - MPs call for plans to be put on hold

“The only thing I am unable to do is alter the police and crime plan. If there are decisions that can be deferred until an election then I would do so.

He added: “It is right and proper that if - and its a huge if - we were going to close a police station where police officers were based and operated from then it is absolutely right there should be proper and full consultation.

“Custody as a function of policing is an entirely operational matter for the chief constable. And in fact, in terms of how custody is provisioned, the impact on the public is absolutely minimal - unless of course you are somebody who is being arrested.”

Mr White said: “I can categorically state that in the work I have been doing with the force in terms of scrutiny, I have written assurances from the chief constable that this will not lead to a reduced number of officers in their patch.

“The reason is that at busy periods police could have two or three waiting in the custody line, which delays officers getting back on streets.

“What the new facility will have is 24/7 medical facility, meaning officer don’t have to escort people to hospital if needed, and more importantly there will be prisoner handling teams, which at moment we don’t have at the existing sites.

“It means officers can leave a prisoner with the team and they immediately return back to their patches. So it will increase officer’s availability and visibility rather than reduce it.”

Mr White said had been engaging with MPs and councillors since July, because that was the point a decision had to be made about the site.

Asked about the prospect of renovating existing custody suites, he said: To be brutally frank that is entirely unaffordable to the tax payer of Durham.

“To renovate would have cost around £40m. And it would still would not achieve the standard required following an inspection last year by inspectors which highlighted problems.

“At the moment we are running high state of corporate risk, because the standards aren’t met and the chief constable has to manage that existing risk. When inspectors comes they will ask what progress has been made.

“We simply don’t have the time to sit and wait until another politician has been elected because the problem would have been exacerbated.”

He added: “The other thing is, if this is delayed until post the election, there will be increased cost in relation to inflation and the very real danger is the potential site we have got might be lost.”

The planning application, expected to be submitted by the end of the month will be subject to statutory consultation.

Mr White said: “People need to understand that we can’t consult on a potential planning application in advance of statutory consultation, because well be accused, particularly if we are working closely with the local authority, of trying to influence that process.”

Custody suite plans - what they will mean

Durham Police is submitting plans for a new centralised custody facility to serve the entire force area.

If approved, the application for a new 48-cell custody facility at Durham Gate, near Spennymoor, would see the closure of existing suites in Bishop Auckland, Darlington, Durham and Peterlee.

The force says the project is expected to cost around £21million, and will save it an average of £400,000 a year in pay and other costs.

The application follows an inspection last year by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) which highlighted the need for a major refurbishment of the force’s custody suites to bring them up to modern-day standards.

Announcing the plans Chief Constable Jo Farrell said: “The decision to close custody facilities is not one we can ever take lightly – it follows months of extensive research into operational demand and resource planning.

“I can reassure residents that a closure of custody facilities in Bishop Auckland, Darlington, Peterlee and Durham City will not affect our ability to police these areas. This new centralised custody facility is an important investment for policing in County Durham and Darlington, and will bring our custody facilities up to date.

“The facility will be specifically designed to improve safety, privacy and dignity for detainees, many of whom are vulnerable, and will significantly improve their welfare while in our care.

“The new facility will also improve efficiency by ensuring we maximise the time available to our officers, which is especially important as we are to recruit an additional 220 officers over the next three years.

“It will also be a safer environment for our staff and officers to work in, and will enable them to book multiple detainees in at once, reducing waiting times for our officers and allowing them to get back out onto the streets quickly.”