Saturday, February 23, 2008

Brockley Police Station to Close?

I was somewhat surprised to read on the South London Press website yesterday that there is a Lewisham Police consultation ongoing which includes, amongst other things, a proposal to close Brockley Police Station. The report which is available online, was published in November 2007 and the consultation period ends on 6th March, but this is the first I've heard of it. There were rumours on Brockley Central last Summer, but I've heard nothing further until now.

Given that it's within Ladywell ward, I would really expect to have been notified either by the police or the Cabinet Member for Community Safety. Judging by the fact that no member of the public has been in touch with me about it either, I'm guessing that not many local people are aware of this consultation, which somewhat begs the question as to just how consultative the consultation is!

Anyway, the strategy document looks at the police buildings around the borough and how they meet current needs. One of the big changes that has happened to policing in London over the last few years of course is the introduction of Safer Neighbourhood Teams, and the property strategy looks amongst other things at the need to provide bases for them. Brockley Police Station currently serves as a base for three Safer Neighbourhood teams - Crofton Park, Ladywell and Telegraph Hill (the Brockley team have a base on Lewisham Way shared with the New Cross team). However, I know the Ladywell SNT have previously spoken of a wish to have a more visible base within the ward, potentially a shop premises somewhere along Brockley Road that could be shared with the Crofton Park team. The consultation document says:

"With all these changes, we do envisage a review of the future of Brockley police station with the re-provision of all the facilities currently housed there in more specialised and more appropriate facilities"

I can see the arguments behind this - the current police station, which I believe is a locally listed building, is situated away from the main thoroughfare on a quiet residential street, and is much larger than currently needed, given that the custody suites, offices and pretty much everything bar the counter service and the SNT are now centralised at the main police station on Lewisham High Street. There were attempts to close down the building and sell it off a few years ago, but this was fought and won by local residents. Since then the counter has mostly been staffed by volunteers.

I wouldn't in principle be opposed to a plan to move the Safer Neighbourhood Team bases and the front counter facility to somewhere smaller but more prominent in the ward, such as a shop premises along Brockley Road, but I would be keen to ensure that it really was a facility open to and accessible by the public, which I understand is not currently the case with the Brockley and New Cross SNT base on Lewisham Way (I understand that they operate from a shop, but there is no counter service for residents to report crime).

A prominently-located and staffed shop where people could stop by and report crimes/raise concerns would potentially be an improvement and I would suggest that some of the money saved from the running costs of the existing building, and the revenue raised by its sale could be put into employing someone to staff a front counter for longer hours than the current 10-2pm service provided by local volunteers. A visible shop location would also give the opportunity to promote Neighbourhood Watch and other schemes.

The consultation document does give assurance that Brockley Police Station will not be closed until an alternative front counter facility is up and running in the area:

"Central to all our decisions will be that no police buildings in the borough will be replaced until alternative and better-located facilities are up and running and without fully consulting the local community on our proposed changes. These changes will ultimately result in significant cost savings around the estate through reduced maintenance costs, more efficient buildings and a more effective use of the space that is occupied in the borough. Such savings will be reinvested back into the estate and ultimately back into supporting frontline policing."

My other main concern is what would happen to the existing building, which is something of a local architectural treasure. I heard somewhere that there is a covenant on the building, which says the building belongs to the local community, but I don't know if that is true. Assuming the plan is to sell the site off for redevelopment, I would very much hope that if this happens, a sympathetic conversion, preserving the main Victorian features of the building is proposed.

Here's a bit of background information about Brockley Police Station, taken from the planning application for its local listing, back in 2003:

"The police station was built between 1882-1883 by the surveyor to the Metropolitan Police, John Butler (1828- Photo Two 1900). The station was built at the same time as the surrounding residential streets, which is in contrast to later police stations, which were fitted into existing streetscapes. Many other police stations were built by John Dixon Butler, presumably Butler's son.

The building survives in its original layout with the sergeant’s family quarters upstairs; offices on the ground floor; the canteen in the Kneller Road wing and the cells in the opposite wing. Elements of the plain interior, Photo Three, survive and include a small number of panelled doors and timber partitions. The station is surrounded by a yard with its original six foot wall and substantial gate posts. The two storey building is built of red brick in the neo-Georgian style with six-over-six pane sash windows, Portland stone rusticated door cases and stone lintels. The ground floor is in rusticated brick and the building is topped by a slate hipped roof and highly decorative chimney stacks and terracotta pots."

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