Cumbria's Chief Constable said the need to find new police cells in the north of the county was now "critical".
The force had hoped to build a custody suite in Houghton, a Carlisle suburb, after existing ones in the city were wrecked in the January floods.
But more than 1,000 residents signed a petition opposing the plans and Carlisle City councillors narrowly rejected them in October.
Cumbria Chief Constable Michael Baxter said officers were under pressure.
The force submitted plans for the custody suite at their traffic base in Houghton to replace the Rickergate site, which was damaged in the January floods.
Following the decision to reject the plans, Cumbria Police Authority said it would be appealing the decision.
Mr Baxter said they were facing disruption by not having cells in that part of the county.
He said: "At the moment we are making do and managing with temporary cells at the crown court and by transporting prisoners back down to Penrith - a 40-mile return journey, part of that journey sometimes at high risk following an arrest.
"So it is critical about the safety of my staff, police officers and detention officers, and the detainees themselves."
He said last weekend there had been 19 arrests in one evening, but they only had 13 cells and four of them were occupied and it had meant having to take people to other parts of the county.