THE base of a police helicopter which serves Hartlepool is to close as part of cost-cutting measures.
The National Police Air Service (Npas) will shut the site at Durham Tees Valley Airport in the financial year 2016/17 as part of its plans to make a “borderless national collaboration” which will see aircraft from across the country pooled to serve all forces.
NPAS bosses aim to save cash by streamlining services across the country reducing its operating bases from 25 to 15 – with Newcastle International Airport’s site surviving the cull.
It is not yet clear whether the Tees Valley aircraft and staff will move to Newcastle.
Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland, Barry Coppinger said he would monitor the situation to see if the force could make any savings on the back of the restructure, if services to the area were to be reduced in any way.
Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland, Barry Coppinger, said: “Responsibility for police air support lies with the NPAS, and while I’m disappointed that they have chosen to close the base at Durham Tees Valley, I am only too aware of how funding cuts mean that difficult decisions have to be made.
“I will be working with police colleagues to closely monitor plans for what the closure means in terms of level of service to Teesside and should the service reduce, I will be renegotiating a better deal for our area so that we are able to put money back into local policing.
“Budget cuts are impacting every area of policing and air support is no different.
“We currently pay £1.4million per year for the helicopter and it’s my role to ensure that we are not paying more than we should be during these changing times.”
The plan, which will save NPAS around £11m, means that its nearest available aircraft will attend requests from forces.
This is compared to the old model where individual forces would own and operate their own helicopter in isolation.
NPAS also says that there will be reserve aircraft on stand-by in case any others have maintenance problems.
Chief Superintendent Ian Whitehouse, accountable manager for NPAS, said: “There is no easy way of doing this and difficult decisions have to be made. The 15-base model will help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the service and mean that every base supports police forces 24 hours a day.”
Mark Burns-Williamson, chairman of the NPAS Strategic Board, said: “It has not been an easy decision to move to a 15-base model but these are the sort of difficult decisions that have to be taken with the economic climate we are all operating in.
“The Board have been assured that the performance of NPAS will be maintained in line with the needs of the forces and PCCs we serve as we move to a truly borderless tasking of the national air service.”
The news comes less than a year after Durham Tees Valley Airport opened a new purpose-built hangar for the Npas aircraft.
The 320 square metre facility was provided under a five-year agreement between the airport and NPAS.
Cleveland Police’s helicopter transferred to NPAS in 2013, but continued to be based at Durham Tees Valley.