Move to new £20m Progress House cannot come soon enough for Blackpool crime fighters

In the garage beneath Blackpool's Bonny Street police station, Inspector Chris Hardy is surveying a web of black plastic slung under the ceiling.

Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 10:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 8:55 pm
Inside Bonny Street Police Station. Pictured is Inspector Chris Hardy.

It may not do anything for the cosmetic appearance of the place - a cramped and gloomy space in which there’s barely room to swing a cat, never mind park a police van.

But the sheets are there for a very important reason.

“Lime is leaching out of the concrete,” explains Insp Hardy. “It was dripping onto the cars, burning the paintwork.”

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The building is literally disolving – just one of the problems facing officers working at the resort’s divisional headquarters.

Insp Hardy is a man on a mission.

He is the driving force behind plans for a brand new headquarters – set to be built on the former site of Progress House on Clifton Road in Marton.

The move to a new £20m headquarters hasn’t been without controversy.

In an era of austerity plenty of people have questioned the sense of spending such a large amount.

But Insp Hardy is adamant Blackpool police have little choice.

The current building, on the former Central Station site, is more than 40 years old.

And time has caught up with the place in more ways than one.

“This might have been OK in 1974,” said Insp Hardy. “But it’s simply not fit for modern policing.

“We have detectives working three floors away from the reactive officers.

“Everyone is working in the space in which they can be accommodated, rather than being the best place to do the job.

“The canteen is on the eighth floor, which gives you great views but if there’s a immediate need to get out on a job you’re eight floors away from the garage.

“It’s just not practical, it’s not right for the way we work in 2016.”

Everywhere around Bonny Street there are signs the current building is struggling to cope. Wiring looms – providing the necessary 21st century digital infrastructure – burst out of the walls in stairwells. Where water has got into the concrete fabric of the building stalactites are forming, the floors below scorched.

“When the lift is broken,” Insp Hardy continues, “the canteen staff have to carry everything up.”

It’s a small thing, but one of dozens of reasons Insp Hardy feels the only option is to pack up and move out.

Even in custody – where arrested prisoners are held – there are big issues.

The area has recently been improved, new cells added within the last five years. But the prefabricated units are too fragile to be used for violent or disruptive prisoners.

The original cells, meanwhile, are gloomy and don’t meet modern disability standards.

“They were built on a racetrack design,” explains Insp Hardy.

“That might have been OK in the 1970s, but now it’s far from ideal. There’s no line of site from the custody desk.

“More and more prisoners we deal with have mental health issues and require observation. This layout doesn’t allow for that.”

A groove running down the middle of the main corridor is a reminder of how basic cells were when Bonny Street was built.

Now covered up, it was once an open drain. “We could stay at Bonny Street,” Insp Hardy accepts.

“But it would cost £10m to modernise the building and what then? We’d get maybe five or 10 years out of the place.

“It’s the right time to move and I’m convinced we’re going to the right location.”

No place demonstrates the wear and tear on Bonny Street better that the officers’ locker room.

Housed in a cavernous former garage it’s a bleak space with a very unusual problem.

Insp Hardy points to the ceiling where corrogated plastic panels are suspended.

“We’re got a roof, under a roof, under a roof,” he explains.

“When it rains water gets in, it runs down and eventually collects in pipes which run into barrels around the room.

“Even so, when it’s wet the room floods.” There are visible patches of mould on the walls – not ideal for a space where officers store their equipment and personal items.

Even the route officers must take from the locker room is a compromise, through a rabbit warren of indoor and outdoor corridors and around the main garage.

Insp Hardy reviewed many prospective sites before deciding on Progress House as the location for a new headquarters.

With good transport links, easy access to one of Blackpool’s main roads and plenty of space to develop, it was a clear winner. Lancashire Police will maintain a town centre presence – with a new desk being set up alongside Blackpool Council in Corporation Street.

And Insp Hardy believes Blackpool will have the best of both worlds.

“We’ve worked out it will have no impact on response times,” he said.

“Now if you’re in a car, you’re straight out into Blackpool’s main car park.

“On an Illuminations night you can be sitting and waiting to get out, even then it’s into a jam.

“It’s not ideal.

“It’s another benefit of the move to Clifton Road.”

Lancashire Police is hoping work could potentially beginning as early as November.

And for Insp Hardy it can’t come soon enough.

“I can’t wait,” he said.

“This is something we need.

“Bonny Street has served us well but now it’s time for a modern police headquarters.

“This one will have a lot of open plan space, allowing officers to better communicate, better work together.

“It’ll have the most modern custody design, allowing us to better care for an monitor prisoners. There’ll even be areas for quiet reflection.

“Yes it’s a lot of money to spend, and I understand that.

“But it needs to be done and this is the right time to do it.

“Plus it opens up this land, the central station site for development. It think we’re all excited to see what could happen here.”

Police bought the Clifton Road site for £2.2m from Blackpool Council, which in turn is buying the Bonny Street site for £3.2m as part of its assembly of land towards potential development of the Central Station site.