A local police chief has turned down an offer of free accommodation for the Bradley Stoke beat team in the Town Council’s new office at the Jubilee Centre, saying it would give the police a significantly lower profile than they have at their present base in the Willow Brook shopping centre.
The police currently have a base in a small office behind Reflections hairdressing salon, accessed via a passageway from the mall. Two officers are based there, and residents can make an appointment to speak to them or attend a weekly ‘drop-in’ session on Wednesday afternoons.
The office space is provided free of charge by the Willow Brook Centre (WBC) and the Town Council currently pays the business rates for the unit.
Last year, when the Town Council submitted a planning application for its new office at the Jubilee Centre, the plans showed a meeting room that would be “used as a police surgery, part-time”. By the time the Council updated its Forward Plan in March this year, the scope of the project had grown to include “provision for the beat post to be relocated to the Jubilee Centre as part of [the new office]”.
Signs of a breakdown in communication between the Town Council and the police emerged at a meeting in July when it was revealed that the police had enquired about the renewal of it business rates subsidy for its base at the WBC. Councillors agreed to invite senior police officers to the next meeting of the Finance Committee “to discuss the possibility of the police having a permanent base at the new Town Council office”.
Unable to attend the August meeting of the Finance Committee, Inspector Bob Evely sent the Council a letter in which he declines the offer of free accommodation at the Jubilee Centre because “the Willow Brook Centre outweighs it as a location to work within and from”. According to the Inspector, the shopping centre is a better choice because of its significant footfall, established footprint and better security provision for staff and equipment.
The meeting also heard that the police would be prepared to pay the business rates for the WBC unit themselves, should the Council decide to withdraw their subsidy.
Cllr Ben Walker, one of the main proponents of the Council’s new office project, commented:
“The office was designed with them in mind. The footfall at the Jubilee Centre is OK – they’re not drawing the correct comparison.”
“The unit at the Willow Brook Centre is only open [to the public] once a week; for the rest of the time calls go to answerphone.”
Cllr Brian Hopkinson was of a different opinion, stating:
“To stick them down here [at the Jubilee Centre] would be absolutely crazy.”
When it came to a vote on whether the Town Council should continue the business rates subsidy for the unit at the Willow Brook Centre, Councillors on the Committee were split, with three in favour and three against. Committee Chair Cllr Roger Avenin, called to exercise his casting vote, used it to decide that the subsidy be discontinued.
The cost of the business rates for 2011/12 was £340 and the police had previously estimated that £450 might be required for 2012/13.
Photo: Official opening of the police beat post at the Willow Brook Centre in January 2011.
More info: Draft minutes of the August Finance Committee Meeting [MS Word]
Related link: Police in Bradley Stoke (The Journal)
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