Politicians have argued whether police station front counters are falling out of use, as more of us turn to social media and the internet to report crimes.
Some say the physical presence of a bricks-and-mortar station helps reassure local residents that their neighbourhood is safe.
But the Square Mile – London’s financial centre where you’re also never far from a pub or a bar – will soon be left with just one front counter, as two stations prepare to close.
Newly-released documents show the City of London Police’s Grade II*-listed Wood Street station, including 13 storeys of offices, will be flogged by the City of London Corporation this year.
Wood Street will be sold at the same time as Snow Hill Police Station in Farringdon. This means the only station with a 24/7 front counter left will be at 182 Bishopsgate.
The Corporation purchased 31,600 sq ft of new office space in Fleet Street in late 2018, which will become a new headquarters and court house. Although no public-facing front counter is promised.
Wood Street and Snow Hill are used by the City of London Police, the force which operates in the Square Mile and is run by the City of London Corporation. It also heads up white-collar crime investigations across the country.
Dozens of London’s station front counters have been axed in recent years. Outside of the City, most of the capital’s 32 boroughs have only one 24/7 front counter. there were 136 in 2013.
The Greater London Authority says police stations are falling out of use as more people report crimes online. In 2016, just eight per cent of crimes were reported at station front counters.
Meanwhile, John Apter, national chair of the Police Federation, the representative body for ‘rank and file’ police officers, argued that removing the physical presence of a police station “lowers people’s sense of safety”.
On 24 October, the Corporation’s Police Authority Board officially declared the two police stations “surplus to operational requirements”.
Reports associated with the sale, and produced for the board’s members, were restricted from public disclosure until they were released under a Freedom of Information request.
A report prepared for the October meeting said: “To facilitate the sale of these premises, it will be necessary to declare the premises surplus to operational requirements.”
It then reads: “Heads of Terms [for the sales] have now been agreed subject to contract and committee approval with prospective purchasers for both premises.
“These terms effectively allow a sale and leaseback of the premises to permit the CoLP [City of London Police] to remain in occupation until 2020 (or surrender earlier if appropriate subject to prior notice).
“It is intended that exchange of contracts for sale will take place as soon as possible with completion and simultaneous leaseback shortly thereafter.”
A City of London Corporation spokesperson clarified that the police will permanently vacate the stations after the sales are complete in 2020. The report also said police officers will be relocated to alternative offices to allow for “vacant possession” when the stations are sold. But the police would not comment on the locations of these temporary offices.
Meanwhile, the new Fleet Street complex isn’t due to open until 2025.
Dates for when Wood Street and Snow Hill stations will be handed over to the as-yet undisclosed buyers have already been agreed, but this information was redacted from the reports. The value of the sales has also been kept private. Despite its Italianate design, Wood Street Police Station was built in the 1960s, and was given a Grade II*-listing in 1998.
BDOnline reported in 2017 that planning permission was given to expand Wood Street Police Station, with a new nine-storey office block. The City of London Police had said that this would allow the force to consolidate its offices into one headquarters in the Square Mile.
A City of London Police spokesperson said: “As part of our estates strategy, plans are in place to ensure that the policing service to the public from the City of London Police remains consistent across the Square Mile.
“These plans include the continuation of an operational police office at Bishopsgate, which will continue to give 24/7 access to the public.”