Under-threat copter called on every day

The Lancashire Constabulary helicopter: The Lancashire Police helicopter, based at Warton, has been called out hundreds of times in the last year, new figures reveal
The Lancashire Constabulary helicopter: The Lancashire Police helicopter, based at Warton, has been called out hundreds of times in the last year, new figures reveal
  • Crews at the Fylde coast police air base which is under threat of closure were deployed in Blackpool more than 200 times in the last year
  • Figures show the “critical” role of the National Police Air Service (NPAS) base at Warton
  • Since April last year, the police helicopter has helped officers in Blackpool find 15 missing people and arrest five suspects
  • NPAS figures show helicopters from the four nearest bases were scrambled to Blackpool 281 times between April and February this year – more than once a day

Crews at the Fylde coast police air base which is under threat of closure were deployed in Blackpool more than 200 times in the last year, The Gazette can today reveal.

Campaigners said the figures show the “critical” role of the National Police Air Service (NPAS) base at Warton, which is one of 10 across the country due to close in the face of funding cuts.

Campaigner Mike Pannett

Campaigner Mike Pannett

Since April last year, the police helicopter has helped officers in Blackpool find 15 missing people and arrest five suspects.

The figures, released following a Freedom of Information request, show police in Blackpool requested aerial support 330 times between April 2014 and February this year – more than once a day.

Campaigner and former police officer Mike Pannett said: “If you get rid of Warton, what happens to the public who live on the west coast?

“It is very worrying indeed. Warton is critical to the west side of Lancashire.”

If you get rid of Warton, what happens to the public who live on the west coast?

NPAS figures show helicopters from the four nearest bases were scrambled to Blackpool 281 times between April and February. Of those, 245 came from Warton.

Critics of the decision to close almost half of the country’s police air bases say the move will put lives at risk.

Mr Pannett, who has spoken out in the media on several policing issues, said: “At the end of the day, how can you put a price on public safety, or a missing person? It’s impossible to cut half of your air bases and deliver the same service.

“The powers that be who are making these huge public safety decisions must be honest with the public.”

Figures for the year so far show staff at NPAS Warton have seen their workload increase this year.

There were 298 requests for aerial support in Blackpool in 2013/14, which resulted in a police helicopter being launched on 177 occasions.

But plans announced in February would see 10 of the country’s 23 air bases close.

Emergency

NPAS Warton is due to shut in 2017, leaving Barton, in Salford, as the nearest base, which critics say is too far away for a rapid response in an emergency.

Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw has voiced his own “concerns” about the impact of closing the base at Warton.

But campaigners are cautiously optimistic after reports a review of the decision could be on the cards.

It is understood the Department for Transport will be asked to scrutinise the plans following public opposition in the North East, where NPAS Tees Valley is among the casualties of the police cuts.

Local campaigners, including those behind the Lancashire Helicopter SOS Twitter profile, were last night trying to find out whether the review would apply to all planned closures, something the Home Office was unable to confirm.

Mr Pannett said, if it goes ahead, a full review of the plans would be welcome.

He added: “If that is a change of heart, I want to make sure that it’s not just smoke and mirrors.”

The Lancashire Helicopter SOS group posted on Twitter: “There needs to be more focus on the Warton-based helicopter. It is clear the whole mess needs reviewing.”

When approached by The Gazette for a comment, NPAS referred back to comments made by Chief Supt Ian Whitehouse when the decision was first announced.

He said NPAS needed to make “substantial” savings, adding: “There is no easy way of doing this and difficult decisions have to be made.

“This move will help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the service and mean that every base supports police forces 24 hours a day.”