THE CHAIRMAN of the Sussex Police Authority has demanded that “the needs of the local people are paramount” as the national police helicoptor service is restructured, reducing aircraft from the current 33 to 23.
Steve Waight wants to ensure a new agreed base will enable a helicopter to reach at least 97 per cent of the population of Sussex within 20 minutes.
An original bid to form a police air base at Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey was rejected by the authority after it emerged Sussex residents would only receive 80 per cent coverage within a 20-minute flight time.
The new National Police Air Service is planned to be rolled out later this year.
Sussex Police aircraft and 30 different bases nationwide, all belonging to individual forces, will be cut to a new service housing helicopters at just 20 bases, saving £15m from the current £66m total.
Mr Waight, a county and borough councillor for Worthing, said: “I think I speak for the vast majority of residents in Sussex who have watched helicopter footage on TV – it’s what they’re able to do in the way of both tracing people and cars in day and night, and finding lost people. It’s something that none of the other police assets can do.
“While we must look at the wider benefits for policing across the region and country, the needs of local people are paramount.”
In an interview with BBC Sussex radio, Nick Herbert, Arundel and South Downs MP and Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice, defended the new service’s ability to protect and serve.
He urged Sussex residents not to characterise the restructuring as a form of “police cut”.
He said: “The police helicopter service is incredibly important and that’s why we’re improving it.
“The National Police Air Service proposal is supported by all the Chief Constables in the country including the Chief Constable of Sussex.
“It’s going to mean a 24/7 service where helicopters are available all of the time, and it will save significant sums of public money.”
It is not yet known where the new base would be.