Police commissioner defends decision to delay training centre plan amid frustration from fire service

The police and crime commissioner for Cambridgeshire, Jason Ablewhite. Picture: PHILIP MYNOTT

The police and crime commissioner for Cambridgeshire, Jason Ablewhite. Picture: PHILIP MYNOTT - Credit: Archant

The county’s police and crime commissioner has defended his decision to delay releasing land to the fire service for its new training centre until the outcome of a judicial review has been revealed.

Jason Ablewhite had previously agreed that the Cambridgeshire Fire Authority, which manages the fire service, could have a piece of land at a police training site in Monks Wood, near Abbots Ripton, for a new operational training facility for firefighters.

However, the fire service says it has been left "frustrated" as the plans have ground to a halt as the commissioner awaits the outcome of a judicial review requested by the fire authority.

The authority sought a judicial review into a decision by the Home Office to allow Mr Ablewhite to take over the running of the fire service last year.

The authority said that the commissioner's business case was "flawed" and "no evidence had been presented that suggested the move would be beneficial".

The judicial review was held at the start of this month, with a decision expected shortly.

Mr Ablewhite said: "I am surprised to read about the fire authority's frustrations regarding progressing my offer to provide land at Monks Wood for shared training facilities for Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service.

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"In my letter of May 21 to the chairman of the fire authority, I asked for more detail about financial and operational matters in the authority's business case in order for me to consider the options appropriately. Once the outcome of the judicial review is announced, I will be in a position to discuss further."

The fire authority has been seeking a new training facility for a number of years and its initial plans to build a new training centre, fire station and headquarters in Huntingdon were challenged by the commissioner in 2016, claiming collaboration with the police would be more cost effective.

The authority says the new facility is "much needed" and that it shouldn't be delayed whilst waiting for the review decision.

Chairman of the fire authority, Kevin Reynolds, said: "We stopped our initial plans as the commissioner was adamant we should be collaborating and we willingly entered into discussions with him for alternatives. His offer of Monks Wood was a viable option for us and also benefited the public purse so we pursued this to the point of having initial planning permission agreed.

"We are now ready to press the button but we first need a final agreement from Mr Ablewhite but he is refusing to give this at this time. We invited him to our fire authority meeting to discuss things but he declined. It is all becoming hugely frustrating. We desperately need a new operational training facility that is fit for the modern day fire and rescue service to ensure our firefighters are trained and competent in the wide ranging incidents they attend, but we are now being held back.

"To us, it should make no difference that has governance of the fire service for this collaboration to proceed. Police and fire services by law now have a duty to collaborate and there are no barriers that we know of to prevent us from moving forwards with the plans. We just want to understand why this collaboration cannot go ahead now.

"If Mr Ablewhite wants to defer a final decision until he knows the outcome of the judicial review, then that would suggest he is only prepared to share estates if he is in charge of both services but that is not what public service collaboration is about. The frustrating fact is, that had we stuck to our original plan to move to a different site, we would have been in by now and operating the new training centre."