MEMBERS of the public will no longer be able walk to in and report a crime at Woodbourne Police Station on the Stewartstown Road.

The PSNI have announced that the Station Enquiry Office at the West Belfast police station is to close.

These ‘front counters’ are operated by Station Enquiry Assistants (SEAs), employed by a third party private sector contractor as part of a managed services contract. The PSNI says the decision to close several – including at Woodbourne – will represent a significant financial saving and maximise the availability of officers.

Enquiry offices at stations at Tennent Street in North Belfast, Lisburn Road in South Belfast and Strandtown in East Belfast will also close.

The PSNI said the closures are likely to be within the next three months but have stressed these are not station closures and each of the police stations remain operational.

Assistant Chief Constable for Local Policing, Bobby Singleton said: “Last month the Chief Constable informed the Northern Ireland Policing Board that as a consequence of the current financial and resource pressures facing the Police Service, the decision has been taken to reduce the number of Station Enquiry Offices from 28 to 17. 

“This decision follows an extensive review which included analysis of the volume and type of demand in enquiry offices. This review concluded that against the backdrop of wider resource challenges, the current service is neither sustainable nor effective.

Fortified Woodbourne PSNI station

Fortified Woodbourne PSNI station

“This is not a decision we have taken lightly and we are conscious there may be an actual or perceived loss of accessibility, visibility and ability to respond to the needs of the community. However, the PSNI is facing unprecedented financial pressure and savings are necessary to deliver a sustainable and effective organisation.

“The Chief Constable has been clear for some time that difficult decisions are going to have to be taken. The Police Service is shrinking and as a result, the level of service the public can expect to see is going to change.”

“It is important to emphasise that these are not station closures. Police officers and staff will continue to serve the community from these locations.

"Our analysis shows that even with the reduced arrangement over 90 per cent of households in Northern Ireland will be within 15 miles of a station Enquiry Office. The average household is 10.7 miles from their nearest office (an increase of four miles) or 18.5 minutes by car (an increase of 1.5 minutes).”

SDLP councillor Councillor Whyte said he was "concerned" at the closures.

"This will leave our entire city with one enquiry desk to serve hundreds of thousands of people.

"There is a real danger that stopping access to these services will result in a reduction of the reporting of crime, with older people and those without their own means of transport less likely to travel to report less serious crimes.

"101 calls can sometimes be subject to extensive delays meaning that the only option for many people is to travel to Musgrave Street, where parking is not available.

“I have requested an urgent meeting the PSNI in Belfast to discuss this decision. These offices are not staffed by PSNI officers so this decision will not lead to more police officers on patrol, which we have also seen a huge reduction in with cuts to our neighbourhood policing teams.

"The Executive and Justice Minister need to step up and ensure we have a properly resourced police service, but the PSNI also have a job to do around maintaining community confidence and I believe this decision will do significant harm to that.”