Fire control still to move, says council

CONTROVERSIAL plans to centralise the region’s fire command in Cambridgeshire have been scrapped – but Suffolk’s control will still move to Huntingdon, it was revealed yesterday.

Fire Minister Bob Neill told parliament yesterday the scheme – which has already cost �230million and was due to add up to �423million – is to be abolished.

But the announcement came too late for Suffolk County Council, whose public protection scrutiny committee had just approved a Cabinet decision to move the command centre to Huntingdon.

This was to be an interim measure until the regional centre was ready, but deputy Chief Fire Officer Mark Hardingham said the move could now be permanent, if the new base meets certain conditions.

The regional control in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, is costing �166,000 a month to run, racking up bills of �6m since it was completed in 2008.

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The East Anglian Daily Times launched a campaign against the plans when they were announced in 2004.

Andy Vingoe, chairman of Suffolk’s Fire Brigades Union, said: “I should be overjoyed because we’ve been saying for the last six years that fire control won’t work, but unfortunately it’s come too late.

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“I think we’ll lose an awful lot of local knowledge. The people that work in fire control know their patch and we have got to remember they are dealing with people who are panicking and don’t always know exactly where they are.”

Colin Spence, portfolio-holder for public protection, confirmed the scrutiny committee decision would stand, even in the light of the Government announcement.

John Field, committee chairman, said: “I’m fairly incensed. We think they could have delayed this decision for a month and made it from a position of certainty.”

Essex fire authority is already seeking an alternative local command centre.

Adam Eckley, deputy Chief Fire Officer for Essex, said: “This is no surprise to anyone who has been following the fortunes of the project, but at least this now gives some certainty to our control team.”

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