ON THE STREETS: Residents fight for police station

Ed Thomas WAVES of protest shook Hampstead through the weekend as people took to the streets, angry at the planned closures of post offices and police stations

Ed Thomas

WAVES of protest shook Hampstead through the weekend as people took to the streets, angry at the planned closures of post offices and police stations.

The biggest attraction was a demonstration outside Hampstead police station on Haverstock Hill, where some 200 people exercised their right to protest.

The Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) is reviewing the future of both that station, and those in Kentish Town and Golders Green, after they have been deemed 'outdated' and expensive to run.


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Other marches were held against planned post office closures in South End Green and England's Lane, while petitions are being signed there and in Highgate High Street.

"Without the police station in Hampstead we will have nothing. Already it only opens during office hours, but burglars don't keep office hours," said Helen Lambert from Primrose Gardens, one of the placard bearers.

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"We need a police station here on the main road where people can see it, and we need it to stay open."

Dr Alexander Seifalian, a professor of surgery at the Royal Free Hospital, said: "There will undoubtedly be more crime if they close the police station down and 999 calls will be delayed under the new police plans.

"Everyone would feel safer knowing the police are here. Closing the station sends out the wrong message - it would say to criminals that it's OK to come here and commit crime.

"My daughters walk to the Channing School in the mornings and go past the police station. It makes them feel safer, as well as me as a parent."

A magistrate living in Hampstead, who asked not to be named, said police need to be stationed in the area because of the levels of crime.

"Hampstead is a target area for criminals. Elderly people are getting frightened to go out at night. If they close this down, response times only get worse," she said.

The Met would raise around £20million by selling Hampstead police station. Kentish Town police station would fetch a similar amount but the money would go to central coffers, rather than into Camden's policing budget.

Police chiefs aim to centralise operations with a single custody suite and response base for the whole borough. Police would then rent shops to provide Safer Neighbourhoods teams with a presence on high streets.

The hoards of protesters on Saturday added their names to a petition which already has more than 1,000 signatures.

Main points of opposition centre on response times, the loss of capital assets and fewer officers in the community.

Currently around 60 police staff work in Hampstead but the Met wants just the two Safer Neighbourhoods teams from Hampstead and Frognal & Fitzjohn's to remain - just 12 people.

Gospel Oak councillor Chris Philp said the plans were about nothing more than making money from the valuable police station.

The crowd booed and jeered the police plans as his voice boomed out through a megaphone for the watching TV crews and reporters.

Brian Coleman, London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden, said: "As anybody in business knows, it is a mistake to get rid of capital assets and replace them with short-term leases. Safer Neighbourhoods offices are no substitute for town centre police stations. And next it will be the post offices. We need to keep Hampstead vibrant and keep it a safe place to live and work."

TIMELINE: HAMPSTEAD POLICE STATION

o October 2005

The Ham&High first reveals police plans to sell off the 95-year-old building after emails from Met chiefs are leaked. More than 4,000 people sign a petition to block the plans.

o November 2005

We reveal surveyors had been employed by the Met to find an alternative base in Hampstead.

o December 2005

Former borough commander Chief Superintendent Mark Heath admits some parts of the station could be sold.

o November 2007

After nearly two years of secrecy, plans for the station are formally announced. The Metropolitan Police Authority publishes its asset management plans for every borough in London.

The plan for Camden claims Hampstead and Kentish Town police stations are "no longer conducive to modern policing requirements". Problems at Hampstead include narrow corridors and stairways, small rooms and difficulties in installing IT and communications equipment. The building is inaccessible and "not best located to serve the highest footfall of the communities" it serves.

o NOW

Camden's latest borough commander, Chief Superintendent Dominic Clout, is more ready to listen to opposition and casts doubt on some aspects of the Met's plans.

Campaigners hope this opens the door for discussions to keep Hampstead Police Station. Ch Supt Clout insists Hampstead will have a better front counter service for members of the public to report crime.

The Camden Community and Police Consultative Group (CCPCG) is responsible for public consultation on the asset management plan. The consultation comes to an end on Monday.

Over the coming months, responses will be compiled and handed to the MPA before a final decision is made. For a last chance to have your say on the plans, visit the CCPCG's website at www.

camdencpcg.org.uk and click on 'Engagement'.ed.thomas@hamhigh.co.uk

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