Three police stations in one of Northern Ireland’s most violent districts are to stop opening around the clock, it was confirmed today.
A major new restructuring strategy for north Belfast has been developed to get more officers on the streets in an area ravaged by sectarian disorder.
Plans are also being finalised which will see big cutbacks on the opening hours of two stations in the east of the city.
But with 200 riots and 723 officers injured in north Belfast since June 2001, urgent efforts have been made to fight back against the troublemakers.
In a response to chief constable Hugh Orde’s demands for every available officer on patrol, bases at Greencastle, Oldpark and York Road will all close for six hours daily from next month, police have confirmed.
A spokesman said: “By releasing more officers on to the streets, police can commit more resources to problem solving processes within the local community.”
Shocking figures released by police also show a total of 416 bullets were fired and 267 blast bombs over the same period as rival Protestant and Catholic communities clashed along north Belfast’s notorious peacelines.
Police chiefs in the area consulted with community representatives as they drafted the plans on how to best deploy the 440 full-time and reserve officers working in the district command unit (DCU).
Resources were badly hit by voluntary severances introduced under the Patten reform proposals.
The new initiative will see telephone queries to the three stations affected diverted to a new call centre based at Tenant Street.
A Police Service of Northern Ireland spokesman denied claims that both Greencastle and York Road bases have been earmarked for total closure eventually.
However, he did confirm plans were also being discussed to turn the large North Queen Street station into a regional, non-reporting building.
According to sources in east Belfast, the police have already decided to turn two of the area’s three main stations - Mount Pottinger and Willowfield - part-time.
But the PSNI insisted opening hours were still being researched with on-going consultation.
“It is hoped a final decision will be made by the beginning of April,” a spokesman said.
“Police wish to reassure local residents in both DCUs that they will continue to provide an effective service which meets the true ethos of community policing.”
But Jim Rogers, who chairs the District Policing Partnership in Belfast, claimed the body had not been properly consulted.
The east Belfast Ulster Unionist councillor said: “I don’t think this is the way forward.
“Whenever the former chief constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan suggested closing over 25 police stations there was a public outcry and this is the same.
“To reduce opening hours in order to bring a handful of officers out on to the beat is not the way forward. They should be open 24 hours every day of the year.”