POLICE have backtracked on plans for a temporary custody unit for prisoners in Salisbury, and 100 response officers are to be based in Amesbury while the city’s new police station is built.

Speaking to members of Salisbury Area Board on Thursday, Insp Andrew Noble of Salisbury Police confirmed that suspects arrested in the city will be taken to Melksham during the two years it will take to build the new custody centre once police quit the current station, with “non-police officers” to be given the task of taking them there.

And about 100 response officers serving Salisbury and south and west Wiltshire will be based in Amesbury until work is completed on the new police station at the Five Rivers community campus.

Another 50 officers in neighbourhood and plain-clothes teams will be relocating to the council offices at Bourne Hill in Salisbury.

Insp Noble said police are still committed to building a new custody centre in Salisbury. A site has been identified not far from the current police station and building is due to start in the spring.

The measures backtrack on what was said in August last year, when Wiltshire’s chief constable Patrick Geenty announced that plans to transform the police station into a school had been put back a year to 2015 amid concerns about public safety.

At that time, he said that although there would still be an interim period when custody cases would have to go Melksham, it would only be for about six months rather than up to two years.

And the force could also retain the custody suite at the Wilton Road site until April 2015 to keep the interim period as short as possible. He reassured people that “our commitment to the people of Salisbury will remain the same”.

The hope was that 999 response and neighbourhood policing teams would remain based in the city. Fears had been raised that there would otherwise be delays in response times. And solicitors have aslo expressed concerns about the time taken getting to and from clients.

Salisbury solicitor Nick Redhead said the journey to Melksham was “a nightmare trip” and added that using civilian contractors to ferry prisoners to Melksham could lead to “warehousing” of suspects in a van in Salisbury until there was a full load, which could be contrary to guidelines about getting people into custody as quickly as possible.

A spokesman for Wiltshire Police said: “A temporary custody facility proved very expensive and would have taken just as much time to build as a permanent solution.

“Retaining custody at Wilton Road while building work was on-going was also looked at, but it is not a viable option due to the obvious risks associated with this further to a full review by health and safety.

“The most cost effective and practical option is for us to transport prisoners to Melksham until the new police building in Salisbury is open."