Controversial East Anglian fire control room to be offloaded

THE Government has admitted it is looking to offload a �23m building which was created to house a new fire control centre for Suffolk and East Anglia – but was never used because the project was abandoned.

One fire brigade union official in the region this week said it had been the most scandalous waste of public money he had encountered in the last 30 years in the service.

The state-of-the-art centre, in Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, was built as part of the then Labour Government's plan to regionalise fire control rooms.

It was supposed to control fire responses across six counties, including Suffolk and Essex, but never opened because of IT problems. However, since its completion in 2008, it has racked up monthly running costs of about �160,000. Ministers have said it is unfair taxpayers are still footing the bill for the 'botched' project, and are now looking to lease the building – and others like it across the country – to new tenants.

Adrian Clarke, Fire Brigades Union (FBU) regional secretary, said the scrapping of the project had been a 'scandalous waste' of public money that could have been better invested into the fire service, which has been hit with major budget cuts in recent years.

He said: 'What they are trying to sell is a 25-year lease – you get to the end of it and don't own the building.

'And when the whole debacle came to an end, absolutely nobody came to lose their job over all of this. The Waterbeach site costs �124,000 a month in PFI rent.

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'I'm coming up to having completed 30 years in the fire service and in 30 years I have never witnessed such a scandalous waste of public money as this.'

Suffolk Coastal MP Dr Therese Coffey said that it was time to 'cut our losses' and let somebody else make better use of the site.

She said: 'It costs tens of thousands of pounds a week and the sooner they can get them in use the better for the taxpayer.'

In a ministerial written statement, Baroness Hanham, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government, said it was 'clearly unsatisfactory' that the project had proved a costly failure.

While four of the nine sites in Durham, London, Fareham and Warrington are being put to use, the Government is now seeking tenants for the remaining five, including the one in Cambridgeshire.

She said: 'Having sought public-sector tenants, my department is launching a marketing campaign to attract tenants from a wider range of organisations for the remaining five buildings, including from the private sector.

'They are built to a high specification and have a number of desirable features, including excellent resilience, good security and easy access to major road networks.'

She added: 'It is clearly unsatisfactory that taxpayers have had to foot the bill for this poorly conceived and poorly implemented project from the last administration, and taxpayers will no doubt resent such expensive buildings lying empty because of the botched procurement and handling under the last Government.

'However, the Coalition Government has taken firm action to protect the public purse from the botched programme and sought to minimise the cost of these inherited liabilities, in as far as we are able to given the constraints of the contracts that were signed.'

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