Northamptonshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has decided to move the force off its Wootton Hall site despite more than half of respondents to public consultation saying they “strongly disagreed” with the plan.
PCC Adam Simmonds announced this week he had signed a ‘heads of agreement’ with the Education Funding Agency (EFA) for the sale of part of the Wootton Hall Park site, which currently houses Northamptonshire Police headquarters.
A total of about 600 staff are based at Wootton Hall, including the chief constable and his senior leadership team. The force control room is also currently based on the site.
The Northampton Free School Trust says Wootton Hall is its preferred site for a new school and it is hoping to open, using temporary classrooms, in September.
However, a total of 51 per cent of the respondents to a public consultation, held from January 11 to February 7, said they strongly disagreed with the proposal to move the police staff out of Wootton Hall.
In total, of 278 responses were received, including 52 per cent from Northamptonshire Police staff,
In response to a question about whether a new school would be an appropriate use of the site, 53 per cent of respondents strongly disagreed.
Overall, 69 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed with the proposal and only 17 per cent strongly agreed or agreed.
The results showed that 14 per cent of people felt the move was not for the benefit of the Northamptonshire people.
One respondent said they felt the PCC wanted the force off the site “based solely on his desire to leave a ‘legacy’ to the people of Northamptonshire.”
More than one in four respondents failed to see a benefit to moving from Wootton Hall and said the current site should receive the funding for renovation rather than acquiring a new facility.
A total of 29 per cent of respondents felt the site should be retained as an emergency services hub to accommodate police, fire and ambulance staff with training facilities and 11 per cent felt the site should be sold to the highest bidder on the open market to achieve the highest revenue.
The results showed 11 per cent of people said they had “no faith” in the consultation process and eight per cent of
respondents felt the Wootton Hall School plan was already determined.
Another six per cent of people who responded believed the decision should not be made so close to the end of the current PCCs term of office.
Lyndsay Smith, Unison branch secretary for Northamptonshire Police who responded to the public consultation, said members did not feel it was a “true” consultation.
She said: “We feel the way in which the questions were asked would only lead to a positive answer.
“We remain concerned about the motives behind this move and don’t feel the commissioner has considered properly the possible wider impact for the public.”
Mr Simmonds said he knew the decision to move Northamptonshire Police off Wootton Hall Park was an “emotive subject” but said he did not believe it was a “viable option” to remain at the current headquarters.
He said: “Moving to new premises will save in excess of £40million over the next 25 years, which will allow us to keep more frontline officers on the streets, keeping Northamptonshire safe.
“There could be no better legacy to Northamptonshire Police’s work at Wootton Hall than to open a new free school on the site with a specialised, policing and public service-focussed curriculum.
“I would like to take this opportunity to wish Wootton Park Principal Dan Rosser and all his staff the very best of luck for their first school year.”
Conservative MP for Northampton North Michael Ellis said he hoped that all the staff could be stationed in an appropriate place.
He said: “My concern will be to ensure the appropriate arrangements are in place to ensure the continuos, effective opertaion of the the police HQ and its staff.
“I hope the staff at Wootton Hall are adequately stationed elesewhere in the county on an appropriate site. I’m sure chief constable Simon Edens will be fully focussed on these opertaional issues.”