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**From WEDNESDAY 01/12/2004 17:39:45

West Belfast police barracks set to close
One of Northern Ireland's most battle-scarred police stations is to be shut down, it was confirmed today.

By: Press Association

All remaining officers should vacate the Andersonstown base in the heart of republican west Belfast within months.

The station, which was the focus for Sinn Fein protests throughout the conflict, will be handed over to the Policing Board who rubber-stamped the decision.

Once the heavily fortified building is demolished the authority is expected to sell off the site.

Chief Constable Hugh Orde earmarked the station for closure as part of his plans to overhaul the police estate.

Surveys showed the number of weekly callers to it ranged from 30 to 109.

The efficiency reorganisation will see police from surrounding stations at Woodbourne, New Barnsley and Grosvenor Road responding to any calls from Andersonstown.

Police could not reveal when the closure would happen.

But West Belfast District Commander David Boultwood said it would lead to a more effective and efficient service.

"The closure of Andersonstown police station will allow the redeployment of resources to increase on-street and mobile police patrols in the area," he said.

"We hope to move as quickly as possible to implement the decision of the Policing Board. Andersonstown Police Station has been operating reduced opening hours for several months."

SDLP board member Alex Attwood, who has pressed for the shut-down, called for it to be handed over to the neighbourhood.

He said: "It can have a number of future uses, including preserving the archaeological remains that are believed to lie beneath the site, and a building or other scheme that sends out a message about the resilience of the local community and their hopes for the future."

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has called for the land occupied by Andersonstown barracks to be given back to his constituents.

The West Belfast MP said: "There is no reason for this fortress in the middle of Andersonstown.

"Sinn Fein is the only party which has consistently campaigned for the closure of Andersonstown barracks.

"Now the property and land should be given back to the west Belfast community again.

"Sinn Fein will join forces with the local community to ensure this symbol of militarisation and oppression is made part of the regeneration of west Belfast which we are advancing."

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