A new centralised police investigations centre to replace custody suites throughout County Durham and Darlington is almost a year behind schedule. 

“Ageing” custody suites in Bishop Auckland, Darlington, Peterlee and Durham City will close next year when the new facility opens near Spennymoor. 

Durham Constabulary's new hub, at Thinford, will house the county’s only bespoke custody suite alongside forensic and investigative facilities. The decision to close the regional suites came after government inspectors highlighted “the poor physical conditions” in some sites.

Police and Crime Commissioner Joy Allen said: “The hub will house all of the forces’ detainees in modern, safe cell accommodation and will be a more efficient and effective means of managing custody and detention.”

The new centre was due to open in Spring 2023, but PCC Allen said the scheme’s progress has been hit by delays. 

And the hub’s other services are currently being prioritised over the new custody facilities. “Due to changing priorities in the force, whereas custody would have been the first element opening, the force will be focusing on forensic functions, ICT resilience and wider functions,” PCC Allen said.  

The delays have been caused by financial pressures, but the commissioner says the project is based on a fixed price and significant financial savings will be made once the new site opens. 

The Northern Echo: Cllr Robert Potts (second left) was joined by County Durham and Darlington Conservative MPs at his PCC campaign launchCllr Robert Potts (second left) was joined by County Durham and Darlington Conservative MPs at his PCC campaign launch (Image: Robert Potts)

The plan to centralise custody services isn’t welcomed by all, however. Robert Potts, a councillor for Evenwood and Conservative PCC candidate at next year’s election, worries that police won’t be able to respond to local incidents. 

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He said: “There’s hardly any police officers left on the street at the moment and my fear is there will be even less once this main custody suite is opened. Police officers will have to make a decision whether they can arrest anybody and that should never be the case.”

Instead, cllr Potts proposes renovating each custody suite, which he says would leave the force with £15 million leftover for extra police officers on the streets. 

Work is ongoing at the new Thinford site with a new Spring/ Summer 2024 opening date set.