Police helicopter facing the chop?

16:17 11 May 2012

AFTER supporting plans to axe their helicopter service under a national scheme, police bosses in Hertfordshire are now concerned changes will leave the county without the adequate air support promised.

In July last year, Herts and Beds police signed up in principal to the National Police Air Service (NPAS) project – a scheme which earmarks the closure of RAF Henlow, in Befordshire, as a police helicopter base.

The NPAS project, which is being run by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and aims to replace the current air support system with a service organised nationally, is expected to save about £15.27 million – 22.8 per cent of what is spent currently.

Chief executive of Hertfordshire Police Authority, Andrew White, said there is concern in the county over changes to the agreed plans.

Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire’s police authorities signed up to the proposal on the understanding that air support would be supplied by the Met Police, and that the Herts and Beds helicopter would continue to operate until July next year.

But the position of the Met Police is no longer clear, and under the current plans the Herts and Beds helicopter will be axed in October this year.

Mr White said: “It’s true to say that a number of things have changed, and the way they have changed is not satisfactory to the police authority.”

A Facebook campaign group – Save the Herts and Beds Police Helicopter – has attracted more than 500 members so far.

A spokesman for the campaign group said: “The police authority is now starting to get quite concerned that we are not going to get any cover from the Met.

“We would have to rely on cover from Oxfordshire and Essex. Essex is moving further east to Southend, so that’s further travelling time.

“They have completely changed the goalposts.”

The spokesman added: “The helicopter is a huge deterrent and a hugely valuable resource.

“We’re worried that Hertfordshire is not going to be the safe place it is at the moment.

“For our county, the loss of the helicopter will be disastrous.”

Mr White added: “We share a lot of concerns that the campaign group have.

“Is there enough availability when different forces’ needs may conflict? That’s the biggest unresolved issue.”

Mr White said negotiations between ACPO and Herts and Beds police are now taking place, in the hope that a mutually satisfactory agreement can be reached.

However, even if a satisfactory outcome is not reached, the two police authorities could be forced to adopt the plans by the policing minister Nick Herbert.

ACPO NPAS leader Chief Constable Alex Marshall, said: “The NPAS proposal has been widely support by chief constables and police authorities and the NPAS project team and I will continue to work with the police forces and authorities to develop the national service with the priority being a strong operational service and effective coverage delivered in the most cost effective way.”

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