Regionalised fire control centre that was never used has cost taxpayers nearly £10million

The moth balled fire control centre in Waterbeach.

The moth balled fire control centre in Waterbeach. - Credit: Archant

Fire union chiefs spoke of their anger as it emerged the cost of a failed plan to merge the East of England’s fire control centres has now cost taxpayers nearly £10million – and is continuing to rise.

The issue was described as sickening and staggering by union officials in the region, who said they warned that regionalising fire control rooms would not work.

The state-of-the-art centre, in Waterbeach, cost £23million to build, with private capital being used for the construction, which is being paid back by the Government in rent.

But it has now emerged a total of £9.3m has been spent on rent and maintenance on a building that has never been used in nearly five years.

Union officials have said the money wasted on the scheme would have been better being invested into the fire service, which has been hit with major budget cuts in recent years.

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Andy Vingoe, chairman of the Suffolk branch of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), said: “We said right from the very beginning it would never work and would be a huge waste of taxpayers’ money.

“With any government, whatever the colour, my message is listen to the professionals. They know best.”

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The centre was part of the former Labour Government’s drive to do away with localised control of the service, with nine buildings involved across the country.

The Waterbeach centre was supposed to control fire responses across six counties, including Cambs, Suffolk and Essex, but it never opened because of IT problems.

In 2010, the Government decided to cut its losses and abandon the project.

Alan Chinn-Shaw, secretary of the Essex branch of the union, said: “It is a staggering amount of money that has been spent on a project that failed, that the FBU warned the government at the time would not succeed.

“What is more disappointing is that we are picking up the bill at a time when fire services around the country are being starved of funding and having funding reduced.

“If money wasn’t wasted it could have been directed to frontline services.”

At the time it was created, the Government of the time agreed to pay the rent and the costs of the centre for decades – and there was no break clause written into the contract.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said the centre is now being actively marketed in the hope that someone will take on the lease.

The spokesman added: “The last administration’s botched Fire Control programme was a disaster from start to finish.

“We have cancelled the flawed project to save taxpayers’ money. However, the last administration failed to provide break clauses in the leases therefore we are stuck with these buildings until we can find someone willing to rent them and take on the costs.

“This is clearly unsatisfactory, but this Government has taken firm action to protect the public purse and minimise the liabilities we have inherited.”

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