£2m a year spent on empty control centre, while fire services face cuts
PUBLISHED: 10:02 20 August 2019 | UPDATED: 10:19 21 August 2019
Millions are still going up in smoke at a failed regional fire control centre that has never taken a single 999 call.
The £23m complex at Waterbeach, near Ely, was built to take emergency calls from Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and parts of Essex.
It was part of a plan by the then Labour government to replace 46 county control rooms with nine large regional centres.
The building was completed in 2009, but was mothballed the year after when the newly-elected coalition government abandoned the project.
Since then, it has stood empty. A spokesman for the Ministry of Homes, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) confirmed the site was still vacant and cost it £2.05m to maintain in 2018/19.
It comes as fire brigades across the region face cuts which firefighters say could endanger them or the public.
They include fire engines being replaced with 4x4s at some stations in Norfolk, a move which is currently under review, while appliances in Suffolk are being crewed by three instead of five firefighters.
Cameron Matthews, regional chair of the Fire Brigades Union, said the money could have paid for 20 on-call fire stations or 65 whole-time firefighters.
"In our region Suffolk are suffering the worst," he said. "They're going out with crews of three because they're failing to recruit and retain on-call firefighters. Part of that is down to pay and conditions."
He added whole-time firefighters were being made to train on their days off, while pay had fallen by more than £6,000 in real terms over the last decade.
The MHCLG said it was in negotiations with a potential tenant over the Cambridgeshire site.
A 25-year lease agreed when the building was commissioned means the government can not sell it but it can be sub-leased to another party.
Agents marketing the property say it offers "highly resilient and secure accommodation arranged over three floors, comprising office space, double height central control room and areas of specialist plant and equipment".
A report into the regional control centres by the National Audit Office later labelled the project "a comprehensive failure".
It said up to £469m had been wasted.