Village ‘united’ against police HQ

Chief constable Dave Jones and police commissioner Julia Mulligan
Chief constable Dave Jones and police commissioner Julia Mulligan
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A North Yorkshire village with a population of 220 has been “drawn together” by its battle to stop a multi-million pound police headquarters and custody suite being built on its doorstep.

Residents have been campaigning since December against plans to create North Yorkshire Police’s Northern Base in South Kilvington, near Thirsk.

Police and crime commissioner Julia Mulligan this week unexpectedly announced that the proposal was to be abandoned and that the force would instead share facilities with neighbouring Cleveland Police.

Mrs Mulligan, who unveiled the plans in September and the proposed location three months later, says £10 million can be saved by not having a new-build headquarters to replace the Grade II listed Newby Wiske Hall.

Rather than create a new ten-cell custody suite as part of the development, the existing suite at Northallerton police station will be refurbished.

But the £620,000 that had been spent on the project before it was abandoned has prompted criticism that enough money to pay for a number of police officers has been “frittered away in a pointless exercise”.

One member of the South Kilvington and District Action Group says the change of heart was partly influenced by its opposition to the scheme, which would have seen a police custody suite created near a primary school.

Group secretary Joy Davies said: “We never stopped working, the impact on the community would have been very great. We fought very hard and got the community with us. We did some events to bring the community together, they have been absolutely brilliant.

“We have had phone calls and emails saying ‘you have brought the community together’, it has been brilliant. You get the community drawn together and it helps you to think these things through and win the day.

“It is a small village, I think they thought we would just roll over. I think they underestimated the strength of the community and the strength of feeling.”

Mrs Mulligan unveiled the proposals for a “Northern Base” last year after earlier making an election pledge to close Newby Wiske Hall. It was abandoned after North Yorkshire Police bosses met with counterparts in neighbouring Cleveland and agreed to share its planned Community Safety Hub at Hemlington, on the North Yorkshire border.

So far £620,000 has been spent on preparatory work for South Kilvington and establishing whether the site was viable, though officials say some of this can be put towards the new plans.

Paul Sherwood, a South Kilvington resident who says the £620,000 spent so far has been “frittered away in a pointless exercise”, has written to Mrs Mulligan and chief constable Dave Jones about the scheme.

He said: “Extremely serious questions now need to be addressed over the colossal waste of public money in this ill-fated, ill-conceived and ridiculous venture that the North Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, assisted by the North Yorkshire Chief Constable, envisaged.

“I also have concerns that the Police and Crime Panel did not carry out their ‘scrutiny’ role as fully as they should in this waste of hard-earned money obtained from the residents of North Yorkshire.”

A spokesman for Mrs Mulligan said: “Set against a potential saving of around £10m, it was the right decision to halt the project as soon as new opportunities emerged, so that we didn’t incur more expense.”