Airport owners in policing row

A ROW has broken out between the police and the owners of Stansted Airport over the increased costs of securing the country's major departure points, the EADT can reveal.

A ROW has broken out between the police and the owners of Stansted Airport over the increased costs of securing the country's major departure points, the EADT can reveal.

Bosses at Essex Police are awaiting a crucial decision from Transport Secretary Alistair Darling due later this year, when he will rule on appropriate policing numbers at BAA-run Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted in the wake of this summer's terrorist atrocities.

Until now, BAA has funded the cost of policing entire police divisions at its major airports and last year it paid out £46million – the EADT has discovered this included £6million to Essex Police for the whole of its 85-officer Stansted Division.

Negotiations between the airport operator and police authorities take place each financial year, but heightened fears of terrorist activity coupled with a dramatic leap in passenger numbers could mean policing costs are set to spiral.

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This has prompted BAA bosses to question some of the figures in "forensic detail" and they have urged police chiefs to improve their productivity.

Now Mr Darling has been called in to settle the dispute and rule on policing levels at Gatwick Airport after the failure of Sussex Police Authority and BAA to agree numbers.

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The tribunal's outcome, expected shortly before Christmas, will act as a test case for determining who pays what at Stansted and other BAA airports.

It could also mean that the taxpayer could start footing more of the policing bill previously paid by BAA, which was privatised in 1987.

Currently, there are 85 officers stationed at Essex Police's Stansted Division, which provides armed and unarmed patrols around the airport.

But with BAA last month unveiling detailed plans to raise the passenger capacity limit on its single runway to 35 million from existing levels of around 21million, Essex Police chiefs believe more officers will be needed.

If the airport gets the go ahead for its controversial second runway plans, BAA's security cost pressure would become dramatically more acute if funding arrangements remained as they are today.

Robert Chambers, chairman of Essex Police Authority, last night confirmed that negotiations with BAA were at a delicate stage and added: "We will have to wait for the outcome of the Sussex tribunal before we know what the police numbers and costs are going to be."

A senior spokesman for BAA claimed there was not a "row", but insisted on the company's right to scrutinise police costs.

He said: "We are in our usual negotiations with the various police forces over the costs of policing.

"It's a legitimate area for intense scrutiny - from both sides. We take a forensic approach when looking at all our operating costs and policing is part of that exercise.

"We will be rigorous when looking at those costs and that's what our shareholders, our clients and the air traveller would expect us to do.

"With what happened on July 7, there needs to be the right level of security, but more passenger numbers should not necessarily mean more police officers.

"We have the same problem as the police with our own internal security. Passenger numbers could double, but that would not mean doubling security staff.

"We need to examine ways of achieving efficiencies and increasing productivity. We are just testing the basis of the police costs.

"There are some issues we are highlighting, but we have good relations with the police and we would not wish to categorise the exercise as a row."

A Department for Transport spokesman said the Gatwick matter had been referred to Mr Darling for "determination" and that the minister's views would be "made clear" later this year.

In a statement, the spokesman also downplayed any fears that security could be compromised.

He said: "The police and BAA continue to provide a high level of security at Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted airports.

"Work is constantly under review to ensure that the right level of policing is provided to deter and prevent criminal activity and provide reassurance.

"The police continue to maintain an excellent working relationship and the airport community can be assured that security is being adequately resourced."

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