Steve White, Acting Durham Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner said, “I acknowledge Mr Jabbour’s and the local MPs concerns over building a centralised custody suite, and am open to discussing the plans in a personal briefing like I have done with local MPs and Councillors since July. I would like to address the concerns that have been raised and present the reasoning behind the decision making process.

My appointment by the Durham and Darlington Police and Crime Panel means that they hold me to account, and they rightly expect me to make difficult decisions, with an expectation that such decisions will not be delayed where they reduce risk and where the impact is significant and positive upon force operations. Any delay in the decision making process, for instance until after the Police & Crime Commissioner Elections 2021, would be severely detrimental, potentially leading to the loss of site needed for such a complex project and we are currently managing a high corporate risk because current facilities do not meet Home Office standards.

The estimated cost of the new custody facility would be around £21m and that would be paid for from reserves held by the Office of the Police, Crime and Victims’ Commissioner. Police forces are required to hold reserves in order to maintain good financial health and a sensible and indeed common practice with such funding in the public sector is to use the funding for one-off major capital works that are needed to ensure risk issues are reduced and to improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the force.

We have already undertaken and continue to deliver a significant programme of engagement on the proposed custody facility, and have communicated with the Police and Crime Panel, all local elected officials, community safety partnerships, Health & Wellbeing Board, the Area Action Partnerships, health and criminal justice organisations and many others. We will shortly be speaking with parish councils too. However, it must be understood that we cannot consult on a potential planning application in advance of statutory consultation because we could be perceived, particularly if working closely with the local authority, as influencing that process.

It is important to highlight that the new custody facility will not only function as an efficient detention suite but would also enable centralisation of other functions linked to detention and investigation processes including a Crime Scene Investigation office and improved technology capacity to facilitate a virtual court for officers. A new facility would be a safer environment for our staff and officers to work in by enabling full CCTV monitoring systems to be installed. It would also eradicate all blind spots and provide holding areas that would facilitate officers to book multiple detainees in at once, instead of them having to wait as they presently have to. This would have a beneficial impact by allowing officers to get back to the street quickly.”