The much-publicized increase of fatal knife crimes in England has once more focused upon on levels of policing throughout the country and the need to understand, and confront, an undoubtedly complex set of reasons motivating youngsters to carry weapons.

Every ill in society can be blamed on Social Media, and more often than not is. Whilst its ease of accessibility for a techno-savvy generation facilitates the complicity of many platforms it is the effect these seemingly cursorily regulated outlets are having on impressionable young minds that engenders thoughts of real life revenge, and the settling of scores started online but summarily concluded in real life, often in the most brutal of fashion.

In the now distant pre-internet era youngsters would create and settle arguments face to face, with no alternative recourse save for uncomplimentary graffiti that had a limited audience. All this changed when online trolling and bullying became the norm for those who sought to air grievances and incite hatred, often for no reason other than schoolyard bullies would single out the weakest, and easiest of targets. Now, when someone is ridiculed it is quite literally at the disposal of the entire planet, producing heightened psychological effects commensurate with humiliation far-greater than just being rubbished in front of your classmates. It is therefore little wonder that reactions to severely dented prided are played out in such devastating, and lethal, outcomes.

There are no easy answers how to address the dumbing down of younger generations who ironically have the ability to comprehend a fast-moving, ever-changing technological landscape and its symbiotic relationship with cyberspace. Turning the other cheek to uncomplimentary graffiti limited to a finite audience is one thing, but doing so when visible to the whole world transmogrifies wounded pride into emotions of more malevolent intent. It would therefore seem that without the internet being policed in a style redolent of restrictions placed on its use in North Korea and Turkmenistan, there are few chances of completely eradicating hateful words and vile images. The onus, sadly, must therefore be on the those on the receiving end to report such violations, and ignore, rather than seeking revenge. Easier said than done, especially when there remains little confidence in the ability of Social Media providers to adequately block or filter malicious content.

Aside from the labyrinthine root causes triggering a marked increase in fatal knife crime, there are obviously issues with many in modern-day Britain regarding not only standards of policing, but an at times lack of visible officers and disappearing local focal points to reassure the general public: police stations. As high-street banks disappear from our rural settlements, towns, and even cities their size and architectural layout easily lend themselves to straightforward conversions into drinking establishments – often monikered as “The Old Bank”, “The Counting House” or similar. Arguments continue to rage, entirely with justification, of how the loss of face-to-face banking affects confidence in one’s transactions being correctly, and securely dealt with but also an obsession with propelling customers towards banking apps, and online banking as a whole. Since the 2008 financial crash personal banking is no longer a priority to an industry that once prided itself on tete-a-tete relationships with its everyday customers.

The loss of so many banks to the hospitality industry has in many ways produced a grudging acceptance of what is now an inevitable, one way street. The demands of shareholders, many of whom won’t even be account holders, is time and again placed ahead of the needs of customers and the cost of maintaining the buildings in which they were formally welcomed. It is though now a new wave of disappearing edifices, police stations, on which local people relied upon and assumed would always be in situ that is the next nail in the high street’s coffin, increasingly repurposing a country that many over a certain age now struggle to recognize, let alone comprehend.

The example of Poulton le Fylde’s police station is just one that highlights the removal of a local focal point that for decades has acted as a reassuring presence of law and order in the upmarket Lancashire town. Despite a gradual whittling away of its opening hours the police station was thereĀ for those in need, whatever the reason. Where to now does the town’s 20,000 strong population go; how can they be confident that their burgeoning town whose infrastructure is being swamped by more new housing than it can cope with is being adequately protected by Lancashire Constabulary?

Poulton is a town that needs high-profile and visible policing but also a safe haven for those to call upon in times of need. Far from being a crime-ridden hotspot similar to neighbouring Blackpool the town’s nighttime economy presents a challenge far from unique to elsewhere in the country, but one that has to be adequately monitored in a proactive, not reactive, manner. The recent sale of its century-old police station was a massive blow to the town, ending an uninterrupted permanent presence in the town whose population has exponentially grown in the last fifty years. Acquired by an as of yet unknown purchaser for four times the guide price suggests Poulton is to be subjected to yet another licensed premise, ironically in the very building from where the behaviour of those who frequent such establishments should be scrutinized.

A Wyre Borough Council report of 2011 stated Poulton was then the location of a ‘disproportionately high concentration of bars and clubs for a town of its size…often causing concern about crime and disorder’. In the intervening years Poulton’s nighttime scene has exploded yet further, with seemingly no cap on the amount of liquor licenses handed out by the local council. That is not to say due process hasn’t been followed, but without an acceptance that the town has gone far beyond saturation point there will rarely be compelling reasons that cannot be contested, aside from previous, unspent criminal convictions, to refuse the granting of further permissions.

And so thus it continues to be played out. The Poulton Forum, a now twice-yearly talking shop for the town’s moral high ground believed prior to the police station’s sale that Wyre’s planning department had only been approached by those interested in the building for office space, or upscale dwellings. Not impossible, but unlikely. Unless it is to be a ‘dry’ establishment a potential new restaurant will need a license to serve alcohol and whilst it won’t itself be an instigator of disorder, it adds additional fuel to the fire. As further insult to injury a bar purporting to cater for real ale aficionados is set to open in a unit previously occupied by a travel agency – opposite the former police station. After the applicant’s initial scheme was rejected, reasons citing that a change of use from retail to hospitality was premature and required further time for it to be marketed as the former, a year of the unit remaining empty effectively tied the hands of planners when the application was resubmitted. The choice of an empty building set amid a strip of retail units or another licensed premise, albeit in a questionable position, inevitable saw the latter win out.

An argument that the market will decide on the right number of nighttime drinking establishments for Poulton le Fylde is untested, and almost certainly specious. All licensed premises go through the same ebb and flow of footfall influenced by the weather, darker months, and individual offerings catering for certain demographics. Undeterred by failures that result in closure premises are often quickly rebadged but with little deviation from previous auspices. Whilst the home of several established public houses most of the recently opened bars are simply taking over premises formerly occupied by retail businesses, whose industry as a whole is foundering on the rocks of e-commerce and the instant availability online of every conceivable material good. Councils the length and breadth of the country are therefore faced with a choice of empty units (that don’t generate business rates) undermining the visual appeal of towns, or premises occupied by those doing one of the few things that cannot be undertaken online.

Knife crime and excessive alcohol consumption are two very different issues whose stems have little in common, other than that they both require a strong, visible police presence that has a significant, positive effect on prevention and the swift resolution of crime. Financial cutbacks have resulted in a two-pronged effect of a shrinkage of the conventional high street and a burgeoning vertical drinking scene, at a time when policing is becoming conspicuous by its absence. Faced with desolate shopping areas during the daytime, councils are left in an invidious position of breathing nocturnal life into towns ill-equipped to deal with what is thrust upon them.

Without banks, police stations, and commerce that can be sourced 24/7 online, often for a far cheaper unit price, the future of the high street has never been so uncertain. With Poulton le Fylde’s former National Westminster Bank to be turned into a ‘high end’ pub, in what will result in a ludicrous pub-next-to-a-pub scenario, and the forthcoming sales of its now closed Royal Bank of Scotland and soon to close Barclay’s, there can only be a prospect of the further hollowing out of its daytime offering, which squarely falls into the hands of those promulgating alcohol’s agenda. It is a sad irony that both premises are within a stone’s throw of the police station, which itself is soon to be transformed beyond recognition.

When Poulton-le-Fylde’s police station was first marketed online by property auctioneer Pugh, speculation and Chinese whispers abounded the internet as to its future use. My tongue in cheek preference was for it to be opened as a police station, or at least be mothballed until a time when Lancashire Constabulary’s budget enabled it to operate as it was originally intended – for the people of the town. Now its presence has been expunged there will never again be a building solely dedicated to policing within Poulton, let alone one in such an apposite location. For someone used to seeing police stations in even some of the smallest of Austrian villages it proves that money is placed above all else in Conservative Britain, where those that can help themselves do, but less said the better about the remaining, vast majority of the population. Access to law, order, and justice are the basic rights of all citizens but in a world becoming increasingly remote and egregious to much of society, the last bastion of a reassuring presence taken for granted in times past is now the target of those deciding its fate with a mere swish of a pen.

How do you police a town, a country, increasingly in need of a visible, reassuring presence without enough personnel or centrally located buildings from which they can operate? Where will it end?

Source material and further information:

Pugh Auctions: http://www.pugh-auctions.com/property/7704

Wyre Borough Council report: Police Station Closures Response to Consultation – August 2011