For sale, one ageing police station, single owner since new, wonderful location close to the centre of the cathedral city of Exeter. That’s not quite how the ad in Saturday’s Estates Gazette reads, but that was the gist of the notice that marked the start of the process to sell Exeter’s Heavitree Road Police Station.
Since it opened in 1960 the station has served the city and the police force well, but it is certainly close to the end of its operational life. It was built for a different Exeter, with a smaller population and for a force facing a different set of challenges. Inside staff could do with more room to work and to find room for kit and everyone from the cleaners to the chief constable has become used to working around a building designed in the 1950s.
The station is one of several around Devon and Cornwall which are being sold or redeveloped to fund new facilities which are in keeping with a modern force. West of the Tamar, after consultation with residents and political leaders, we’re creating a new county headquarters for Cornwall in Bodmin and replacing the police station at Liskeard.
Times have changed. The demands on the force have altered dramatically as populations grow and new crimes arise, and all too often the police force’s estate has not. Devon & Cornwall bucked the national trend last year - adding to its ranks. I want us to do that again next year, so more space is required.
Our people deserve modern and decent working environments and sites like Heavitree Road can better serve the public if redeveloped for housing, retail or industry. It’s being sold without planning permission but the council has indicated that it would look favourably on an application for accommodation. Housing is much needed in Exeter, so by making this large and central brownfield plot available we’re helping to solve a problem. Funds raised from the sale of Heavitree Road will go towards this new set of buildings at Middlemoor, buildings that will be spacious and which can be adapted as demands change.
I am pleased to tell you that since our June ground-breaking ceremony progress has been swift, mainly thanks to dry weather and the expertise of the contractors who have been working on the first phase of the project. The £29m project will provide a county operational headquarters for Devon which will be the base for up to 450 officers whose duties range from community policing to major crime investigation. A state-of-the-art custody suite will provide 40 police cells and there will be a new and improved public front desk.
Of course major projects like these don’t happen in isolation, it’s vital that communities are consulted, the impact of works is assessed and mitigated and the companies we commission have the highest ethical standards. It’s important, too, that while large, modern facilities with major custody suites are created, our officers don’t become less accessible to the communities they serve - it’s vital that the ethos of connectivity is one that runs through policing, and certainly our estates department. For example, we have to ensure that where we’ve closed old stations we have to find alternative provision in the same locality.
In Exeter that means partnering with the city council to provide a city centre community policing hub in Paris Street. In Dartmouth it means providing a temporary police station while redeveloping the old police station site, in Liskeard we’re liaising with other emergency services to create a new tri-service campus.
Whenever possible we use local contractors so the investment my office is making benefits our economy. Willmott Dixon, the main contractor for the Exeter build, has an ambition to leave a lasting legacy in communities through its projects. In practical terms that means working with ex offenders to help them get their lives back on track. Its staff are already in talks with HMP Exeter and local charities in the hope that this project could offer a new start in life for some whose future we all have a stake in.
The company also works with young people who have an interest in a career in construction and science subjects. Through a tailored work experience programme youngsters get a great insight into an industry where opportunities are plentiful.
Police Federation members have been heavily involved in the project’s development, meaning serving officers have helped with the design and look of the building.
All this activity and more is keeping the force estates team extremely busy, but I think raising capital in this way and reinvesting it in the manner benefits us all. Our police officers and frontline staff get new facilities, we have a chance to employ and engage local people and the work boosts our economies.