Should Dungiven police station close and handed over to another group, the costs involved in making it ready for that move would be substantial.
Decommissioning costs - making it suitable to hand over - would be in the region of £48,000 according to the PSNI, but just who could afford to take it on is the big question, considering the harsh economic times.
“It’s not fit for community groups because the rooms are far too small and there’s not a lot of natural light in the station,” said first time visitor, Dorothy Hegarty of the deaf charity Hands That Talk.
“It’s a massive space that could be used in a practical way for the people of the town. If there was to be something for the community and groups that would integrate all of the community - disability groups, those that are hard of hearing, people who are blind - right across the community - that would be ideal, but this building and the site as it is wouldn’t be suitable for that at all. However, I think the site could be used for, possibly, a sports facility or a health centre or as a site for a hotel. I’m amazed at the size of it though. It’s very solid and big, but it will take a lot of money to re-develop the site.”
Ms Hegarty believes the people of Dungiven and surrounding areas do care what happens to the site.
“I think more people should be able to see it because I do think the people of the town are interested in having the police here to support the people and we do need a space for police somewhere. We don’t want anything that is going to cost too much money, so why not take a space that is already there and integrate that way? It could be anywhere and when Hands That Talk gets its new big building police could be within that, but we’re flexible.”
Limavady mayor, Sean McGlinchey said he was surprised how good shape the station was in, but agrees it wouldn’t be of any value to community groups as it stands.
“I like to think perhaps it could be used for sport or health facilities and I know Limavady Council are considering new sports facilities right now so it may be a possibilty. I believe it should be handed over to another Government body because the last thing people want is for it to become an eyesore.”
The Sinn Fein councillor said he believed policing “has come on in Dungiven and when you see the officers walking up the town and engaging with the public it appears normal and that’s how it should be but, yes, there are still challenges but we all have to step up to the mark and massive strides have been made and that’s what people want.”
PSNI Area Commander, Chief Inspector Sam Donaldson said the station and its use has changed significantly.
“We only have the neigbourhood team working from here now, which is a sergeant and four constables. We’ve come along way,” he told the Journal. “We haven’t had many callers in the last year, although we have had one. It’s not a functioning station but is still part of our estate, but the building is not being used the way it was in the past and that’s inevitable. Policing has changed a lot. The consultation on the station finishes on the 11th March and it’s my job to collate the evidence as such and present it to the Board via the District Policing Partnership.”
So can the Area Commander cast any idea as to what the future holds for the station?
“From the public meetings in Dungiven there is a mixed message. There are some saying the station can serve a purpose, even in its present format, but there are others saying if we did some work to soften it, we could encourage members of the community to visit, but there are also lots of others who are saying ‘no, we dont want a station here anymore’. I think the important thing is people aren’t saying they don’t want the police in Dungiven. They want the good work to continue and for us to continue to engage, whether that be at another location, but there is a mixed message and it wouldn’t be fair for me to say everybody believes A or B. If a decision was taken, and it’s a big if, but if this was to be given to the community we would think of doing an open day or give people the opportunity to come and see it, but we are a long way off that and that’s a massive if. That’s all for the Policing Board to decide and, in the meantime, we will continue to do what we do and the station will continue to be open every other Tuesday afternoon and we’ll have officers on the beat. We’ll let this run in the background and see where it goes.”