TOWN centre policing in Southend has been secured for the future after plans for a £6million refurbishment of the town police station were passed.

Officers said the station’s revamp underlined Essex Police’s commitment to keeping neighbourhood police officers in Southend for years to come.

The application was approved by 16 votes to zero at Southend’s development control committee yesterday.

Councillor Mary Betson raised concerns about windows of the custody suite facing on to the public highway.

She said: “I am worried the planned windows could lead to people congregating outside and trying to communicate with those inside.”

However, she was assured by the planning officers that the windows would be too high for this to be possible.

An extension will increase the amount of custody suites from 22 to 30. They will feature the latest technology, with cameras installed to reduce the number of staff needed to monitor inmates – freeing them up to complete more critical work.

The extension will also include dedicated facilities for drugs, a changing area, consultation rooms, interview rooms, staff rooms, photo and DNA rooms, plus more booking-in desks.

This should help speed up detainee processing and free up valuable police officer time.

Although it still operates safely, police say the current station, built in the Sixties, is no longer fit for purpose. The station will close for eight months while work is carried out, and it will take a further ten months to complete the custody suites.

Chief Inspector Simon Anslow, district commander for Southend, said: “It is extremely positive because the custody block will be state of the art.

“This station is in really poor order. It’s out of date, has poor use of space and is not fit for a modern police force.

“There is slight concern from the public that in times of austerity, it could be seen as poor use of funding.

“However, we see it as a commitment to policing in Southend, and it shows we will be in the middle of Southend for a long time yet.

“In addition, the money is capital expenditure that can’t be spent on people and officers.”