If you’ve spent any time in Stroud, or perhaps if you’ve ever just seen it from up on a hillside, one thing you’ve probably noticed is that we have a really ugly police station that sits in a really prominent position.
The building is actually two separate institutions, a police station (which is still active) and a magistrates court that closed in 2016. They’re linked together for obvious reasons.
There’s not a lot of information online about when it this building was built or who designed or commissioned it (readers - can you help fill this gap?), but the school-child-authored BBC Domesday project from the mid 1980s says it was built in 1974.
One thing that is for sure, is that it’s a massive wasted opportunity of a space, a sore-spot right in the centre of town, occupying one of the most central, most attractive spots in town.
If you can’t picture this, just take a look for a moment at this historic photograph. This is a view from the bottom of Parliament Street, looking up.
Here is the same view today, with the police station and magistrates court sitting to the left.
Whilst the 30s co-op building is very attractive and one of the town’s real gems, there’s no doubt that generally speaking Parliament Street is a shadow of its former glory, and that a big part of this is due to the bland presence of the police station, magistrates’ court and their accompanying car parks.
So, we were wondering, if austerity means cuts all around, is there any chance that the police might simply entirely abandon the building, opening it up to new uses? Not so it would seem. We asked Gloucestershire’s Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner to tell us a bit about their plans, and in January 2018 they sent us this:
Work is continuing to survey the current police station and the former court building to enable us to identify the options for the combined building. I can confirm that the PCC is now the freehold owner of both buildings and he has no intention of disposing of either of them. Our current thinking is that we will refurbish both buildings, move the local policing team from the current police station into the former court building (to take advantage of the better public access) and use the rest of the building for some HQ functions and as our training centre which will allow us to dispose of a more expensive building here in Quedgeley. This will reduce our running costs and secure a capital receipt that we will be able to invest in the Stroud building. These are only our preliminary views at the moment subject to the professional advice that we are currently seeking from building surveyors and others. We are expecting a report next month which will enable the Commissioner to take the relevant decisions.
So it sounds like the police force will be making good use of the buildings for some time to come, which is good for them, and perhaps good for Stroudies who want police protection, but not so great for people who want the town to be a high-quality environment to live and work in.
But wait! In June 2018 Martin Surl, the county police commissioner, published a statement suggesting that this original plan to upgrade the station was no longer on the cards. The reason? The cost of refurbishment was going to be prohibitively high. Instead of costing an estimated £1-2 million, the forecast bill is now £5 million.
Mr Surl’s crucial statement was this:
Neither the police station nor the magistrates’ court has had any major investment for a substantial period of time and is in a far worse state of repair than we were led to believe. The cost of redeveloping the building along the lines I had in mind originally, cannot be justified in the current climate.
So it sound like Stroud police station is likely to continue as an under-used, decaying property at the heart of a town which appears, in other ways, to be undergoing a real renaissance.
The ball, then, is clearly in our court, as people who live and work in Stroud. Do we care enough to formulate a plan and push it through? Do we, as a town, still have the energy that helped save various key buildings from demolition in the 1980s? Could we come up with a vision that the town loved, and that was economic enough to build in times of continuing austerity?
It would be extremely tough, but it wouldn’t be entirely against the grain of the times. In recent years the Government introduced various new rights for communities to bid to buy buildings that are owned and operated by parts of the state. One of these is the Community Right to Bid.
Ultimately the government is in the mood to get rid of properties, and so perhaps the door wouldn’t be quite as closed as might otherwise be thought, to the community trying something new.
If you think you might be interested in joining or starting a conversation on this, why not start off by leaving a comment on the Facebook post that accompanies this article.