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 the county 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.
The helicopter’s value to the county was demonstrated this weekend when crews were scrambled to a number of high-profile incidents.
The chopper was in the air for several hours on Saturday assisting Lancashire Fire and Rescue service and local officers at a major blaze in Fleetwood. And the aerial unit was also called into action on Sunday when a 10-year-old girl was reported missing from home in Poulton.
An NPAS spokesman said: “The closure of 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.
“The decision to close NPAS Warton was made based on an impact assessment of the ability of the National Police Air Service to provide air support to police forces in line with areas of the greatest threat, harm and risk to the public.”
It’s understood staff will be redeployed to other aerial units.
The decision has been criticised by both police officers and the general public, with the safety of communities paramount in their thoughts.
Police Federation spokesman Rachel Baines said: “For us it has been a concern since the announcement that the National Police Air Service was looking at closing Warton.
“We feel the north of the county will be badly affected.
“We will see a reduction in the availability of service which has been available to officers.
“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.