As Police and Crime Commissioner I am responsible for the totality of policing. With more than 6,000 officers and staff in Devon and Cornwall Police, and over 130 buildings in the police estate which I own and manage, this means a lot of urgent matters arise without notice.

One such example takes us back to 2019, when the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) nationally issued a warning around the Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) construction method.

RAAC has dominated the news headlines in recent weeks after the Department for Education warned schools that buildings made of it which had been considered safe, could no longer be occupied safely. 

Back then, few people outside estates departments or surveyors’ offices had ever heard of this lightweight form of precast concrete. It was, however, frequently used in public sector buildings in the UK from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. 

RAAC is mainly found in roofs, although occasionally in floors and walls. It is less durable than traditional concrete and can crack and fail without much warning, particularly after a couple of decades. 

My then head of estates showed real leadership, ordering the entire police estate to be surveyed for the stuff. The good news was that it had only been used in the construction of three buildings. The bad was that one of them was a fully operational police station in Barnstaple with a public enquiry desk and a custody unit. Elsewhere it was found in the roof of a sports hall and swimming pool complex at the force’s Exeter headquarters – both were used by sporting clubs and in the training of new recruits.

Public sector officials have been accused of turning a blind eye to this dangerous and potentially costly problem four years ago, but no one can accuse my team of doing so.

The sports hall and swimming pool were deemed at risk of collapse and were closed immediately. The station was less critical, but a move to another location was essential.

With the help of partners in North Devon a location at Seven Brethren was found for the police station. The complexity of a custody unit was resolved by craning in modular cells and the entire project was all but completed in around six months, with the station opening in October 2020. The old station, in North Walk, is now empty and awaiting demolition.

Both the swimming pool and the sports hall were demolished. I took the decision to rebuild the sports hall but with soaring gas costs and limited use, could not justify replacing the pool.

The new sports hall, which looks fantastic and is already in use, will be officially opened by Acting Chief Constable Jim Colwell and me this weekend.

RAAC building methods left an expensive and dangerous legacy for the owners and managers of public sector estates. But when the safety of our officers, staff and the public is at stake I felt we had no option but to get a firm grip of the issue, invest in the estate and put the right resources and people in place to sort it out.

I would like to thank my estates team who went on to lead the way nationally on this issue. Their prompt and effective action protected the force’s workforce and the public while enabling operational policing to continue.

This project is one of several I will update the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Panel on when they meet to scrutinise my decision-making at Plymouth’s Council House on Friday (September 15). The meeting is open to press and public and can be followed online via a webcast. Agenda and reports for the meeting can be found here: Agenda for Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Panel on Friday 15 September 2023, 10.30 am - Modern Council (