Cambs based �23m regional fire control centre scrapped

MINISTERS yesterday pulled the plug on plans for regional fire control centres, scuppering plans to operate the whole of the East of England from Cambridgeshire.

Fire minister Bob Neill announced that the Government was scrapping the �423million project to replace 46 control centres in England with nine new sites, which has been hit by a series of delays and increased costs after striking a confidential compensation deal with contractors.

The news means that a proposed new �23m control centre at Waterbeach, which was set to open next year and has been sitting empty at a cost to taxpayers of �200,000 a month, will now never see action - though suggestions that Cambridgeshire and Suffolk, which are likely to press ahead with control-room merger plans, could yet move into the new facility were denied by Cambridgeshire today.

Suffolk Fire Service has to be out of its present control centre by November next year, and some staff are expected to transfer to Cambridgeshire’s facility at Hinchingbrooke in Huntingdon.

Neil Newberry, assistant chief fire officer for Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service, said today: “We are very pleased that Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service has recommended transferring its command and control function to our control room in Huntingdon. We believe this has advantages for both services, including making cashable savings, which is really important in these difficult economic times when all fire and rescue services are facing severe budget cuts.

“The plan will go to our fire authority for a decision and, if it is agreed, we will look forward to working with Suffolk on an implementation plan.

“The decision to take on the command and control function for Suffolk was always intended to be a temporary move until the RCC was operational. However, with Monday’s news that the RCCs will no longer go ahead, this now has the potential to become a longer-term solution.”

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Because none of the six county brigades involved signed a lease deal for the building, all of the costs will be born by the Department for Communities and Local Government, which must now find a new future for the building.

David Worsley, chief executive of the East of England Regional Control Centre, said: “It’s obviously disappointing for all those involved and the considerable amount of time and effort they had put in. People’s attention will now be turning towards the consequences of it, but it’s too early to say exactly what that will be.”

In April a report by MPs concluded the scheme had been inadequately planned, poorly executed, and badly managed but the Government should plough on because it would cost too much money to scrap the controversial project.

But in a written ministerial statement to Parliament, Mr Neill said the progress of the project had caused serious concerns and contractors Cassidian had failed to meet a deadline to get the main IT system delivered on time and on budget.

“Following extensive discussion with Cassidian, we have jointly concluded, with regret, that the requirements of the project cannot be delivered to an acceptable timeframe,” Mr Neill said. “Therefore the best outcome for the taxpayer and the fire and rescue community is for the contract to be terminated with immediate effect. Cassidian and the Department for Communities and Local Government have reached an acceptable settlement over this, although the details will remain commercially confidential.”