WORRIED residents in the local rural community have spoken out over fears about a rise in crime if police numbers are cut and Broughton police station is closed.
The proposed closure of the Broughton station was the main topic for community leaders and residents at a public meeting held last week to debate Lancashire Constabulary’s budget saving plans.
And there was further anger as police chiefs confirmed that Broughton PC John McCartney would not be replaced when he retires later this year.
It means that the neighbourhood policing team will be reduced to just one community beat manager and two PCSOs (police community support officers) covering an area from Catforth and Woodplumpton, through Broughton and Barton, Goosnargh, Whittingham and Grimsargh, Beacon Fell, Inglewhite and Whitechapel.
Under the current plans, officers would continue to patrol the rural areas, but start their shift from the Preston HQ, rather than in Broughton. Residents labelled the move “short-sighted” and called for a more “visible presence.”
County Coun George Wilkins, who represents the Preston Rural division, said the plans had led to a “sense of abandonment” in the rural community, with the feeling that police priorities were being focused more on the urban areas.
He said: “People feel left on their own. What do people need to do now to convince you (that the station needs to stay)?
“Rural crime is completely different. This is a special cause, a special area – Broughton is the hub of this area.”
Other issues raised included the types of crimes committed in rural areas, such as the theft of livestock and diesel. Protestors also say the area will become even more difficult to police effectively without the present detailed local knowledge.
Coun Pat Hastings, of Broughton Parish Council, said: “We would like you to rethink this, because we think it’s a big mistake.”
Around 150 people were at Barton Grange Hotel for the meeting, which saw members of the public question Supt Stuart Noble, of the police‘s Central Division at Preston, for an hour-and-a-half on the proposals.
Residents heard that the running costs of Broughton station equated to £7,191 per year, but Supt Noble added that extra savings would be made on maintenance and by putting the 106 year-old-base on the market.
Addressing the issue of staffing levels, he confirmed PC John McCartney would not be replaced, but claimed effective and quality policing remained a priority. He said: “The neighbourhood policing team has reduced, that decision has been made.
“We can’t replace officers who have gone, but we can provide support to that team and you as a community as much as we can.”
He added: “This is a very emotive issue for you as a community, but the reality is we have to make some very tricky decisions.”
Broughton Police Station, along with Longridge, is one of 45 police premises listed for sale in a bid to slice £42 million from the force’s budget over the next four years.
Rural police houses in Goosnargh, Grimsargh and Woodplumpton are already on the market. The former station at Bowgreave and front counter service at Garstang are also up for review.
Supt Noble told the meeting that in one year, from 2010 to 2011, Broughton Station had 150 visitors, as opposed to 46,200 to Preston Operations Centre.
But Coun Neil Cartwright raised concerns over the “great chunk of time” it would take officers to reach their areas if they were clocking in at Preston and having to tackle the Broughton traffic.
Some residents urged the force to look at other options, including an alternative police base in the rural area.
Coun Tom Davies, for Preston Rural East, said: “People are very upset and very concerned that they are losing the police presence.
“People who are anti-social will realise the police are not there on the ground and they will move in, which is very worrying.”
Supt Noble said the force would take full notice of the community concerns before making a decision.