THE proposal by the local police and crime commissioner to sell the North Yorkshire Police Headquarters building at Newby Wiske Hall is of particular interest to me.

When I joined the then North Riding Constabulary in 1956, Newby Wiske Hall housed No 2 District Police Training Centre. Owned by the Home Office, it accommodated students from No 2 Region which included police forces from the Scottish border down to the River Humber on the eastern side of the country. At that time there were far more police forces than now, their number being reduced by a series of amalgamations. I spent three months living at Newby Wiske during my initial training course and became very familiar with the building and its facilities.

At that time – 1956 – the headquarters of the North Riding Constabulary was near County Hall, Northallerton, access being from Racecourse Lane. The town’s police station was also there, as was the force control room and road traffic department. Expansion in all departments meant that the existing buildings were supplemented by portable accommodation, supposedly on a temporary basis because, even in the 1960s, it was increasingly evident that the existing complex of police accommodation was too small, too old and generally inadequate.

A new building was urgently required. This situation was aggravated by the amalgamations of police forces and in 1968 the North Riding Constabulary was amalgamated with the East Riding Constabulary and York City, both of whom had their functions transferred to Northallerton.

That old building in Racecourse Lane, Northallerton, was bursting at the seams.

Further changes were made by the Local Government Act of 1972 when, on April 1, 1974, a new police force was created. It was known as North Yorkshire Police and it served the new county of that name while retaining the police of the former East Riding and York City, but now adding a large slice of the former West Riding, which included areas around Skipton, Harrogate, Ripon and Selby. The county served by the newly created North Yorkshire Police was the largest in England – and all served from that struggling complex of buildings off Racecourse Lane.

A new force headquarters was desperately required and it was around this time that it was announced that the Home Office was closing its police training centre at Newby Wiske Hall – and that the wonderful old hall would be sold. By chance, I was then working at Police Headquarters, Northallerton, and found myself attached to a small team whose task was to examine the suitability of Newby Wiske Hall as a police headquarters.

However, there were complications even if we decided it was suitable. This is known as red tape, something most governments and their departments seem to generate. In this case, Newby Wiske Hall, in its role as a Home Office Police Training Centre, belonged to a certain tier of Government properties – I cannot recall the precise name but to illustrate the point, I shall refer to it as Tier No 1.

This meant it could not be sold directly to an organisation that dwelt in a different tier – and as a mere county constabulary, our tier was, say, No 3. It meant we could not make a bid for the property until it had been offered to all organisations in Tier No 1, such as the Prison Service, and then to Tier No 2. Meanwhile, however, we had to assess its suitability as the police headquarters for England’s largest county.

One point that was often overlooked was that this would not be an operational police station. Police cars with sirens blaring would not disturb the peaceful village atmosphere at all hours of the day and night. Its personnel would comprise a large number of civilian employees and it would not have cells to accommodate dangerous villains. In simple terms, it would be a rather smart office block in its own grounds.

As the hall was being advertised through Government channels in case one of its major departments wanted it, we got to work examining it in great detail as we assessed its suitability as a police headquarters. It had a lot to offer. There was ample space for offices as well as rather grand rooms for formal occasions; it had canteen facilities already in situ from its training school days. In its parkland of 34 acres, there was no problem with parking space for staff and official motor vehicles or those of VIP visitors, and there were outbuildings that could also be utilised.

It had sports facilities too, something that the police of North Yorkshire had never enjoyed on their own premises (we had to borrow cricket or football fields) although sport was funded privately by members of the force and its civilian staff who had their own sports associations. I recall one of our early submissions to the Home Office in which our architect had incorporated plans for two squash courts.

I took a call from an official in the Home Office who pointed out that such private facilities could not be included in the cost of an official building but then he added: “But of course you can include store rooms!”

To cut short a long story, our bid for Newby Wiske Hall, and our designs for it to be used as a police headquarters, eventually met with approval by the Home Office, and as no organisation from Tiers Nos 1 or 2 had expressed interest, we could go ahead with the purchase – subject, as always, to the prevailing conditions and restrictions, and, of course, to the will of the police authority. So we bought it.

After it had been adapted to our needs, we moved in – I think the year was 1976 – and I had an office there. It was actually the former bedroom I had used when it was a police training school and it overlooked the main entrance. I felt at home.

It follows that I have a strong liking for Newby Wiske Hall for it has played such an important role in my life, but I can still remember a policeman saying to me when we bought the hall: “Well, we’ve got our own home.” I had to agree.

I do not pretend to know the current situation concerning funding of this splendid “home” but any new custom-build headquarters will cost a fortune in both construction and running costs.

And I doubt if it will ever feel like home.

I HAVE received an interesting e-mail from a correspondent who tells me she observed two adult robins in her garden.

They were clearly romantically involved because she noticed one feed the other with food from her bird table. She adds she saw this kind of tenderness some years ago and wonders how widespread it might be.

Many of us have witnessed adult birds feeding their chicks even when almost fully grown, but the tender act of feeding one’s mate outside the nest is probably not so common.

My correspondent also wonders about the area of a robin’s territory. These cute birds are noted for the spirited defence of their territories whose precise size and boundaries remain a mystery to us – but not robins.