ALTHOUGH already unstaffed and with no public access, the closure of three Borders police stations, which will be sold off to the highest bidder, is a controversial proposal, according to the region’s senior officer.
But divisional commander Chief Superintendent Graham Sinclair this week stressed that the disposal of the facilities in Newcastleton, Innerleithen and West Linton would result in no dimunition of service to these communities.
“I appreciate there will be a perception that the three settlements will have lost out and I sympathise with that view and understand it is a controversial issue,” he told TheSouthern at a media briefing on Monday.
“But the reality is that these buildings really are surplus to our requirements and my first duty is to preserve frontline policing and give assurances that this will not impact on the service we offer.”
A decision of the disposal of the three stations, along with the possible sale of the post at Earlston, which is used by several local groups, will be made at a meeting of Lothian and Borders Police Board in Haddington on November 14.
The sell-offs will immediately save the divisional budget £14,000 a year in rates and utility bills.
Regardless of what is determined by councillors from across the force area, CS Sinclair flagged up the probability of further public office closures across the regional network of stations.
At present, the facilities at Selkirk, Melrose, Lauder, Jedburgh, Coldstream, Kelso, Duns and Eyemouth have a single station assistant and are open to the public, according to the availability of these employees.
But, in line with the policy to trim five per cent off the £11.5million police budget in the Borders in each of the next two years, no departing civilian staff are being replaced – and at least one is due to retire later this year.
The same policy of reducing the back office civilian workforce will also result in the cut of the front desk hours in Peebles, currently open from 7am till 10pm weekdays.
The current hours at the principal stations of Galashiels and Hawick will remain unchanged for the forseeable future.
Councillor Gavin Logan (Tweeddale East), who represents Scottish Borders Council on the board, looks set to oppose the station disposal programme next month.
“I’m very disappointed to hear of the proposals to close Innerleithen, West Linton and Newcastleton, along with the large cut in opening hours at Peebles,” said Mr Logan yesterday.
“The annual savings seem small beer in relation to the whole police budget and will not contribute much in maintaining frontline services. The Borders will not benefit much from the sale of these properties because any capital receipts will go directly into a central pot, although I was pleased to get an assurance today that a significant amount of that money will be spent in the Borders.
“As I understand it the only other station closures planned across the entire force area are at Danderhall [Edinburgh] and Mid Calder [West Lothian], so we are obviously taking a disproportionate hit here in the Borders.
“I admit it cannot be claimed any of these stations are busy, but they are seen as an important part of the community and if closed will be sorely missed.
“The fear of crime is real and the reassurance of a police presence is to be encouraged.”
The latter view was echoed by Jim Rowan, sub-postmaster at Newcastleton.
“It’s true that, apart from officers from Hawick using the station for comfort breaks, the building here has had no meaningful use since the retiral earlier this year of our special constable Keith Brough,” said Mr Rowan.
“While for locals, the presence of a station may only be a comforting perception, for visitors the sight of the police sign, which is illuminated at night, is a viable deterrent to crime and, for the saving of £4,000 in overheads, that seems a small price to pay to retain the status quo.”
There are currently 236 serving police officers in the Borders with their salaries, and the wages of civilian staff, accounting for 96 per cent of the total divisional budget.