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Byline: By LISA JONES South Wales Echo

A single Welsh police force is to be created after Home Secretary Charles Clarke told Wales' four police chiefs to merge. The controversial plans were confirmed yesterday at a meeting in London, where Mr Clarke told the heads of South Wales, North Wales, Gwent and Dyfed-Powys forces to agree to amalgamate by February 24, or he would press ahead with the changes anyway.

The chairman of the South Wales Police Authority, Ray Thomas, said the authority would be looking at the issue in their next meeting on Monday.

He added: 'The Home Secretary has made his mind up. If we don't go down the voluntary route, it might be a forced issue.' South Wales Chief Constable Barbara Wilding has previously said she believes the merger is the best option.

But across the country, crime-busting organisations are coming to terms with the possible consequences of the merger. June Johnson, chairwoman of the Bayside Tenants and Residents' Association, has worked in conjunction with South Wales Police to rid her estate of anti-social youths. 'If you merge all of the forces, you are going to get a worse service,' she said. 'If you try to merge Splott with Rhyl, where are your forces coming from when they are needed? 'It is bad enough now for people to get a rapid response when they need one. The people have got to say they don't want this. It would be a complete and utter disaster.' Terry Flynn, chairman of the Cardiff East Neighbourhood Watch, was initially against the plans, but now supports them. He said: 'Having had the privilege of attending a number of consultation meetings, I'm quite happy with the proposals. What concerned me was the neighbourhood policing aspect. That seems to have been covered quite well. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We accept that there needs to be an organisation in place that can deal with high-level crime, but what's close to our hearts is this neighbourhood and community policing.' Plans to restructure the 43 forces in Wales and England were revealed last September when the Inspectorate of Constabulary described police structure as no longer 'fit for its purpose.'

The Government argued that the forces were too small to carry out 21st century policing, such as with terrorism and cross-border crime, as effectively as their larger counterparts. But politicians have largely opposed the scheme, accusing the Home Secretary of forcing the plans through with little consultation.

Ministers want the changes to take place within 12-18 months.: YOUR VIEWS ON THE PROPOSED POLICE FORCE MERGER:I can't say I have much confidence in the police force as it stands, but joining the regions could increase confusion, and organisational problems.'

Jim Gibson, 34, a property developer, from Culverhouse Cross, Cardiff.

'Merging the police forces would lead to a further loss of focus on local problems. Also, the needs of city and rural communities are quite different.'

Steve Williams, 30, a trainee manager, from West Road, Llandaff North, Cardiff.

'This would make it harder to speak to someone who knows your area. We've seen this with banks. We want to speak to a local person, not a call centre agent.'

Mary Prince and June Mills, both 62, retired, from Roath, Cardiff.
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 7, 2006
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