A new £50 million base for armed police officers is to be built in central London to help protect the public from terrorism.
The new base will house at least 200 officers and contain a practice firing range, weapons storage and other facilities designed to enable the force’s firearms specialists to hone their shooting and decision making skills.
It will be built in Limehouse and is being located in east London partly to make it easier to keep officers on hand to respond to any future terror attacks in the capital.
The move comes as the Met also announced it would trial the use of drones for firearms operations and other police actions in London.
Scotland Yard said it was borrowing a drone from Sussex Police to help deal with incidents such as high risk missing people, serious traffic collisions, searches for suspects and the identification of cannabis factories.
However, the drone would also provide aerial support for “pre-planned and spontaneous firearms operations” in an eight week trial. It will also be used in surveillance operations to provide life footage of operation deployments.
The decision to set up the new firearms base comes as the Met continues to expand its firearms capability through the recruitment of 600 extra armed officers.
Once completed that will take the total number of armed officers employed by the Met to 2,800.
The increase, which amounts to a rise of more than a third in the number of armed officers in London, was ordered last year before this summer’s terror attacks in the capital and Manchester in recognition of the heightened threat since the Islamic State urged its followers to inflict murder in their own countries using whatever means possible.
But the need for armed officers to be available to respond rapidly has been illustrated by the incidents at Westminster and London Bridge in particular, as well as by attacks overseas in Barcelona and elsewhere.
News of the new base comes 100 days after the London Bridge attack when armed officers rushed to the scene to confront and kill the three Islamist attackers within eight minutes.
Disclosing the decision to set up a firearms base in Limehouse, Met Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey said the force needed new sites for its armed officers and had already built a new firearms range at Hendon.
But the new Limehouse base would make it easier to ensure that officers were easily available to tackle both terrorist incidents and other crimes in which guns might be involved.
He added: “ The reality is that when you have the sort of firearms capability we have, you have to acrredit and train people regularly.
"The firearms range at Hendon is up, but it’s not just that one. As we redevelop in the east of London we are looking at a similar type of capability at Limehouse. That’s about making sure we can keep those officers trained, accredited, and up to the standards they need to be, and available.”
Mr Mackey said the projected £50 million cost was a “place marker” figure and that the eventual bill could be either higher or lower.
Other non-firearms officers would also be stationed at Limehouse, which will be built as part of a wider overhaul of the Met’s property portfolio under which more than 250 buildings will be disposed of and a smaller number of new stations developed to take their place.
“You will see buildings that are multi-functional, that have uniformed operational officers, custody facilities, where we put road policing units, that’s the sort of thing that Limehouse will be,” Mr Mackey said.
The Met’s armed officers will continue to train at a firing range in Gravesend. The opening of the Hendon range has given the force extra capacity but the centrally located Limehouse base will represent a further significant step up.
The Limehouse base will replace the existing Met firearms base in Leman Street in the City of London which is expected to be sold off.
At the moment, as well as armed officers stationed at prominent locations such as Parliament and Buckingham Palace, other Met firearms teams patrol the capital covertly in vehicles.
The aim is to ensure that they are available to respond rapidly to any incident, terrorist or otherwise, requiring an armed response. The speed at which the firearms teams are able to deal with incidents was illustrated at the London Bridge attack when armed officers rushed to the scene, before confronting and killing the three Islamist attackers within eight minutes of being deployed.
In terrorist incidents, firearms officers are trained to advance towards attackers, despite the risk to their own lives.
They are also instructed to fire repeatedly if necessary to ensure that an attacker is completely incapacitated, which will usually mean dead, because of the risk that a suicide belt or other bomb might otherwise be detonated.
A firm date for the construction of the new Limehouse base has yet to be set but it is part of a five year plan by the Met to transform its property portfolio by closing little used buildings while at the same time updating others or building new ones.
The aim is to improve the force’s efficiency and save enough money to fund redevelopment and pay for 1,100 officers.