Plans are being submitted for a new centralised custody facility for County Durham and Darlington.
As part of a wider engagement programme with partners, Durham Constabulary is preparing to submit a planning application for a new 48-cell custody facility at DurhamGate, near Spennymoor.
If approved, the suite would become the force’s main custody facility, with existing suites in Bishop Auckland, Darlington, Durham City and Peterlee closing.
The project is expected to cost around £21million, and will save the force an average of £400,000 per year in pay and other costs.
The application follows an inspection last year by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) which highlighted the need for a major refurbishment of the force’s custody suites to bring them up to modern-day standards.
Chief Constable Jo Farrell said: “The decision to close custody facilities is not one we can ever take lightly – it follows months of extensive research into operational demand and resource planning.
“I can reassure residents that a closure of custody facilities in Bishop Auckland, Darlington, Peterlee and Durham City will not affect our ability to police these areas”.
She added: “This new centralised custody facility is an important investment for policing in County Durham and Darlington, and will bring our custody facilities up to date.
“The facility will be specifically designed to improve safety, privacy and dignity for detainees, many of whom are vulnerable, and will significantly improve their welfare while in our care. The new facility will also improve efficiency by ensuring we maximise the time available to our officers, which is especially important as we are to recruit an additional 220 officers over the next three years.
“It will also be a safer environment for our staff and officers to work in, and will enable them to book multiple detainees in at once, reducing waiting times for our officers and allowing them to get back out onto the streets quickly.
“A complete refurbishment of our existing custody facilities would be a significant undertaking, which would be expensive and would not provide value for money for the taxpayer.
“The world has changed significantly since our existing custody facilities were built many decades ago, and so too have our demands. We must move forward so we can continue to provide the service that the public has come to expect from us.”
A briefing event for MPs and council leaders was held on Friday (November 6) to provide them with information on the plans.
Members of the public will also be invited to have their say on the proposals as part of a full planning process. Details of this will be released in due course.
Steve White, Acting Durham Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner said: “I am pleased with the extensive cost evaluation exercise undertaken by the force to ensure a custody provision is provided across the county that is fit for purpose.
“I agree that with the mitigations, the new model will provide the most cost effective use of public money as well as being more efficient and effective to ensure detainees are dealt with quickly and efficiently, and the custody suite is suitable and meets HMICFRS requirements.
“As the acting Commissioner, I will ensure that the views of local people are listened to as the planning application process continues and as the Force examines wider estate issues going forward.”