£1m a year for empty building

TAXPAYERS could end up forking out more than £1million a year to maintain an empty building which will eventually house a much-delayed new fire service control room for East Anglia.

Anthony Bond

TAXPAYERS could end up forking out more than £1million a year to maintain an empty building which will eventually house a much-delayed new fire service control room for East Anglia.

The 999 control centre, which will replace individual control rooms in six counties including Suffolk and Essex, is already years behind schedule.

But the new facility, based at Cambridge Research Park, may not now be ready until 2012 - and in the meantime, the FBU says the costs of maintaining the building will be huge.

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The union has claimed todaythat the Government is spending £750,000 a month on the country's nine new fire control centres which are standing unused- with the figure set to increase to more than £1m in the New Year.

At the Cambridge site, the figure is believed to be around £84,000 per month. It is understood that includes the likes of leasing the building, maintaining it, and security.

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Steve Collins, brigade secretary for the FBU Suffolk branch, said: “There is a huge amount of money going into the empty control room. There are cutbacks every year on frontline firefighting around the country and we have felt it here in Suffolk. Our budgets are being squeezed by national government yet money is being wasted on these regional control rooms.

“We feel that money spent on these regional control rooms could be better spent on improving frontline firefighting equipment and personnel.”

He said the FBU had always being opposed to the regional control room and that the spending figures that came from the Government originally have already been vastly overspent.

“A huge amount of taxpayers' money is being pumped into these regional control rooms which are still unproven and several years behind schedule,” he said.

The new control room at Cambridge Research Park will take calls from Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

The Government is spending more than £1billion nationwide by closing 46 county control rooms and establishing nine fire control centres.

Joanna Spicer, Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for public protection, said: “I know that it is sitting empty and it would not be empty if the project was not so badly organised. It will not be open for at least three years and it is a shocking waste of money.

“What I am anxious about is making sure that any extra costs that we incur before it opens are met by the Government and not the taxpayer of Suffolk.

“This whole project has been mismanaged from start to finish but the decision has been made and we are concentrating on making sure that when it opens it works for Suffolk and people are kept safe.”

A Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “New regional control centre buildings are not standing idle. They are being fitted out with IT and other equipment, being used for the developing and testing of systems and providing familiarisation and training facilities for fire service staff and elected members.

“Good progress has been made on a number of fronts including, as planned, the practical completion of eight of the nine buildings and the establishing of the local authority owned companies.”

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