Police ‘eye in the sky’ threat

A helicopter flying the colours of the National Police Air Service
A helicopter flying the colours of the National Police Air Service

Fears have been raised that lives and communities will be put at risk by the closure of Lancashire’s only police helicopter base.

The National Police Air Service (NPAS) has revealed the Warton base will close in 12 months time. The county will retain cover, provided by choppers based in Greater Manchester and Cheshire.

But there are concerns over response times and the fact Blackpool and the Fylde coast will be vying with big cities like Liverpool and Manchester for the services of the police’s eye in the sky.

A campaign has already begun to save the Warton base – with more than 100,000 people having shared a social media post about the closure.

A spokesman said: “The closure of NPAS Warton in April 2017 is part of a national programme of planned activity to ensure essential air support remains in place to support the police forces of England and Wales at a significantly-reduced cost to the public.”

Rachel Baines, who represents officers in Lancashire for the Police Federation, said: “We feel the north of the county will be badly affected.

“The helicopter is used in a wide range of cases from persons missing from home to pursuits. It is the eye in the sky and it is a vital tool for officers on the ground.

“With tools like the heat seeking cameras it can see things officers on the ground never could.

“Anything which reduces the resources available to officers is a concern to us.”

The current base at Warton will remain open until April 2017 but the impact on the Fylde coast may be felt before that date, with NPAS planning to begin the transfer of services to other bases over the next 12 months.

But the police chopper operator idenies there will be any detrimental impact.

An NPAS spokesman said: “While NPAS Warton will remain open until April 2017, it is possible some of the services they currently provide will be delivered by other local NPAS bases sooner than that in order to most effectively manage the closure process. Alongside this closure, more NPAS bases are operating 24 hours. NPAS Barton and NPAS Hawarden along with others across the rest of England and Wales already provide a service 24/7.

“The National Police Air Service (NPAS) is a unique national collaboration across England and Wales providing a truly borderless service.

“Police forces in need of air support contact the NPAS Operations Centre and receive support from the nearest available aircraft at the time.

“NPAS currently provides this support from 17 bases across England and Wales. Through this network, NPAS are normally able to reach 98 per cent of the population of England and Wales within 20 minutes.”