A ‘state-of-the-art’ £14m custody suite in Sheffield has suffered from a host of problems since opening last year, according to inspectors who said the site was a “matter of real concern”.
The purpose-built facility on Shepcote Lane near Meadowhall, which includes a 50-cell custody suite replacing the existing suites in Ecclesfield, Moss Way, Sheffield city centre and Rotherham, opened last April.
But independent custody visitors who toured the building identified a number of defects, including foul smells caused by blocked drains, heating system failures and problems with the materials used to build the exercise yard.
In a report published this month, they described the issues as “recurrent” rather than one-off and said it was “unacceptable” that it had taken months to resolve some of them.
It said: “ICVs recognised that there are often minor defects with any new building. However, the scale and frequency of complaints since opening has been a matter of real concern.”
The contractor which built the site said the defects identified were now fixed, and that the site is “one of the best and most modern custody facilities in the UK”.
And South Yorkshire Police described the concerns as “short-term problems that occur in the early stages” of a new building, which had no impact on staff or visitors. The force says the site saves £1.2 million a year in running costs and offered “integrated, modern facilities”.
The report, which was discussed at a recent meeting of the South Yorkshire Police public accountability board, said one of the problems was blocked drains and sewage systems which led to persistent foul smells. Responding to the concerns, South Yorkshire Police said there had been a number of problems, but they had now been resolved.
They said: “The drains were found to have large deposits of rubble, concrete and tarmac in them, but this took considerable time to be identified by the constructors, Willmott Dixon.”
The report also highlighted problems with cell toilets and drinking fountains. Police said the water supply was controlled via an electronic timer, to make it more difficult to flood cells, leading some staff to believe the toilets were not working when they failed to flush.
There were also heating systems failures, prompting Willmot Dixon to fly an engineer over from Sweden, where the air handling units are manufactured.
Other issues included light switches breaking with very little use because they were part of a faulty batch, and flooding in a kitchen because of the failure of an air-conditioning condenser pack.
Police added: “The exercise yard at Shepcote was a block and render construction. It is understood that the render has failed in places and is susceptible to damage by detainees. This has since been addressed.”
Another issue raised by the report was detainees not being brought to court on time because of a lack of a prisoner escort.
This is because the closure of the old custody suites means there is no longer ‘walk-through access’ to magistrates’ court and the terms of the contract mean contractor GEOAmey does not have to pick up suspects if it is not given enough notice.
South Yorkshire Police received planning permission for the centre in November 2014 and contractors Willmott Dixon moved onto the site in January 2015. The building opened for business in April 2014.
At the same time, a £6m custody building was built in Barnsley by the same firm and was due to be completed in Autumn 2016.
The site also houses the services that wrap around a police investigation, with investigative officers and partner agencies working from the same building.
Speaking at its launch last March, then-Chief Constable David Crompton said replacing “outdated custody suites” in Sheffield and Rotherham with one purpose-built centre would save approximately £1.2 million a year on running costs and energy bills.
He said: “The centre is also a real step forward with investigating officers and partners co-located with the custody staff, providing a more effective service when dealing with some of our most difficult customers.”
Crime commissioner Dr Alan Billings said: “This is a state-of-the-art building. The existing facilities are unsuitable and expensive to run. The new centre will save money.
“It will provide a decent environment for police officers and other staff to work in. And by bringing all the agencies together it will also, I believe, contribute towards reducing re-offending.”
Willmott Dixon said in a statement: “Willmott Dixon is very proud of the Sheffield Custody Suite for South Yorkshire Police which provides a much better working environment for the force’s team.
“We worked diligently with South Yorkshire Police to conclude any final work that required additional focus to ensure everyone is completely satisfied with the custody suite and the Force is now benefiting from one of the best and most modern custody facilities in the UK.”
Superintendent Simon Verrall of South Yorkshire Police said: “The custody and crime centre at Shepcote Lane was designed as purpose-built facility to include a fifty-cell custody suite, replacing four existing suites in Sheffield and Rotherham, as well as housing the vital services that wrap around a police investigation, with investigative officers and partner agencies working from the same building.
“As with any new building, there is always the possibility there will be short-term problems that occur in the early stages, while everything settles in and people become familiar and accustomed to the design and way of working.
“The issues at the centre were quickly identified with contractors and measures swiftly put in place to resolve them.
“The custody suite has remained operational and a safe environment, with no impact or any form of risk at any time to those working, or visiting, the suite.
“The building was and remains an innovative and state of the art design that co-locates investigating officers and partners, and provides custody staff with integrated, modern facilities to manage high-risk situations and deliver a much more effective service.
“This is in addition to the approximate £1.2m a year savings on running costs and energy bills from replacing the four existing suites.”