Hampshire Police sell off building that cost taxpayers millions

Alpha Park
Alpha Park
Swansea City Centre. Credit: Wiki Commons (Labelled for reuse)

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A BUILDING that stood empty for five years and cost Hampshire police more than £1.8m after being bought as a headquarters has been sold at a loss.

Alpha Park, near Eastleigh, was purchased for £9.6m in 2008 after the force’s existing West Hill headquarters in Winchester was deemed not fit for purpose.

By May last year, the force had spent £1.836m on the empty building, which has been branded a ‘toxic asset’ by Hampshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Hayes.

Now Alpha Park has been sold, subject to a satisfactory survey, after a review requested by Mr Hayes found it would cost an estimated £15.75m to refurbish the site to the required standard.

Mr Hayes said the sale price or details of the buyer could not yet be revealed due to conditions.

However he did reveal the force did not recoup its spend.

Mr Hayes said: ‘We have agreed a price with a purchaser and Alpha Park has been sold subject to a survey. It’s very good news.

‘If it goes through we will have got rid of a toxic asset and we can move on with the estates strategy.

‘The money that we bring in as a result of the sale of Alpha Park will go towards funding the estates funding programmes.

‘We always knew, and I said when I launched the new estates strategy, that we were going to sell it at less than we have purchased it all those years ago.

‘But the important thing is we get as much for it as we can in the current market.

‘The decision I had to make was how long do we hold on to it because it’s costing us money just to keep the dust off it and keep it secure.

‘That was a decision I had to make and I felt that the offer we have got is a good one.’

The Audit Commission scrutinised the now defunct Hampshire Police Authority’s decision to buy Alpha Park.

But the commission concluded that the decision to purchase the building was not unreasonable.

The money received from the sale of Alpha Park will be ploughed back into proposals for revamping the force’s estates. The £40m plan – which replaces the previous £83m plan put forward by HPA – includes developing new police investigation centres in Portsmouth and Basingstoke.

Meanwhile, the current headquarters is also being sold.

But Mottisfont Court in Winchester remains empty more than a year after being bought for £1.5m.

The building was purchased in 2012 before police authorities were abolished and replaced with police and crime commissioners with the intention of it becoming the force’s new headquarters.

Mr Hayes said plans are in place to make use of it.

John Apter, chairman of Hampshire Police Federation, said of the sale of Alpha Park: ‘This has drawn a line under a very embarrassing period for the constabulary.

‘I accept that the Audit Commission found no wrongdoing with regard to the original purchase but most people I speak to are still baffled by the decision to buy Alpha Park in the first place. The police and crime commissioner has made his decision.

‘He has stuck by his decision but what he must ensure now is rather than well-meaning individuals with no experience in commercial property buying getting involved in these decision, Mr Hayes has people on his team who are experts in their field.

‘Mr Hayes must promise us as a constabulary and also the taxpayer that this will never happen again.

‘It’s been a bit of a festering sore but it is good to move on. The police buildings in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight have not been a top priority for many, many years.

‘What is refreshing is there now appears to be a light at the end of a very long tunnel.’

ALPHA Park has cost Hampshire police more than £1.8m since being bought during the property boom.

The site has stood empty for five years since it was purchased for £9.6m.

The extra cash has been spent on the building’s upkeep, security, business rates and other costs, bringing the total bill by May last year to more than £11m.

However the latest figure is likely to be even higher.

Then chief constable Alex Marshall, who is now head of the College of Policing but was not in charge when the building was bought, warned in 2010 that the force could not afford the bill to refurbish the site,

It is not yet known how much the controversial building has been sold for but the cash is set to be ploughed back in to the force’s estate.

Here are examples of what the cash could have paid for :

619 police community support officers

497 police constables

78 chief constables

MULTI-MILLION pound budget cuts left Hampshire police with no option but to take drastic action to save cash.

The force had already bought Alpha Park near Eastleigh with a view to it becoming a new headquarters when the first round of cuts were announced by the government in 2010.

The announcement left Hampshire police with the mammoth task of working out how to save £55m by April 2015. That target has already been achieved. But as a result police station front desks force-wide have shut.

This includes front desks at Cosham, Fratton, Waterlooville and Petersfield. Opening hours at Fareham and Gosport stations have been reduced among others.

Hayling Island police station has been closed.

As reported in The News, chief constable Andy Marsh said 448 officer and 436 staff posts would have been axed as part of cost-cutting measures by April. Other changes include sharing more services with neighbouring forces.

Roads policing is now shared with Thames Valley Police, as is IT, for example.

Mr Marsh recently revealed plans for a radical revamp of how the force operates in the future in a bid to protect essential services and save an extra £25m by April 2017.

The additional budget pressures mean even more posts in the force could be axed.

But Mr Marsh has vowed that officers will still be deployed to every emergency, in cases where safety or property is at risk or a crime is ongoing.

Four chief superintendents took up new roles in November to help redesign the way the force operates.

Proposals up for consideration include looking at whether some calls could be resolved at the point of handling rather than sending officers out to the scene.

The mix of staff and officers handling calls is also being reviewed. The force is also considering whether more offenders who are considered low level could be dealt with in different ways.

An example is using more community resolutions, where issues are resolved without them going to court.

THE sale of Alpha Park comes about a year after Simon Hayes requested a review of the force’s estates strategy.

Mr Hayes raised concerns about the viability of the site near Eastleigh being used as the force’s headquarters shortly after being elected in November 2012.

It followed an announcement by the now defunct Hampshire Police Authority in September 2012 that some police services would move to Alpha Park as part of an £83m redevelopment plan.

A full estates review ensued and in May, plans to sell Alpha Park were revealed in a new strategy.

Mr Hayes said the new strategy will cost less than half of the previous one at £40m.

Meanwhile the force’s West Hill headquarters in Winchester remains up for sale. Plans are progressing to turn Mottisfont Court in the city, which has stood empty since being bought for £1.5m in 2012, into a new headquarters.

Mr Hayes said: ‘West Hill is up for sale. We are negotiating a price with a number of interested parties.

‘We are developing proposals to kit Mottisfont Court out and move the headquarters of the constabulary from West Hill.

‘I would not have supported the purchase of Alpha Park had I been involved in it at the time. That was a decision that was made. I had to make a decision on what I was going to do with it and I decided to sell it so that we gain the money to reinvest it in my estates strategy.

‘I decided to review the estates we have and have a strategy that will costs £40m, whereas the police authority’s was £83m.

‘We have saved by professionally looking at the our estates and I have taken away the management of the estates from the police and brought it into being managed in a business-like way.’