A POLICE commissioner has highlighted the urgent need to build a central custody centre for Durham and Darlington, saying delays could see the force losing the site to which there are no obvious alternatives.

Acting Police Crime and Victim’s Commissioner Steve White has also warned that any hold-ups to the scheme to replace custody suites at Bishop Auckland, Darlington, Durham City and Peterlee and replace them with a 48-cell facility at DurhamGate, near Spennymoor could hit an already stretched public purse.

Mr White was speaking after further criticism of the scheme which Durham Constabulary say would save £400,000 a year while addressing significant concerns over its existing dated facilities.

A number of politicians have highlighted that a new Police and Crime Commissioner is due to be elected in May, and say long-term strategic decisions such as the £21m facility should be made by someone with a democratic mandate.

Other major concerns over the scheme include the amount of time that police officers will have to spend ferrying prisoners to the DurhamGate site.

A briefing led by Mr White to Darlington councillors heard due to the lack of facilities, such as CCTV in cells, there are many inefficient processes and due to delays in processing people, queues of police cars often developed outside police stations.

The briefing heard the new facility would have a holding area, so as soon as an officer arrived with a detained person they could go straight into custody, be searched and put into a cell with full visibility for the custody sergeant.

Mr White emphasised that the scheme had not been “dreamt up overnight” and the reason Durham Constabulary had been repeatedly rated outstanding was due to “a lot of hard work and innovation” and the force’s custody arrangements were key to that.

The briefing was told having good custody facilities was important as it was a key area for securing evidence and the current facilities could affect policing.

Mr White said: “There is an element of operational risk in the way that custody is currently functioning. I am very conscious, particularly against a very challenging fiscal backdrop as a result of the pandemic, that we have to ensure that any spend, and the proposal here is a very significant spend, is the right course of action and the cost to the taxpayer locally is kept to a minimum.”

The commissioner said the impact of the changes on the public would be minimal, so the police were not undertaking a full public consultation.”

He also stressed that the changes were urgently needed. Mr White said: “These sites don’t come along very often and this isn’t a case of throwing a dart at a map and saying we’re going to build it. An awful lot of work has gone into finding the right location and environment.

“It’s a commercial issue as well and it could be that any kind of delay would leave us with the loss of the site, which leaves us with a very great problem because there isn’t really alternative at the moment that we can see.”