Control room scrapping 'will help Devon and Somerset'

Empty Taunton fire control centre The Taunton fire control centre was built but never became operational

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The scrapping of a fire control centre for south-west England will allow Devon and Somerset fire crews to provide the best service, a fire boss has said.

In 2005, the Labour government announced a plan to replace the counties' fire control rooms with a single facility in Taunton, Somerset.

But now the coalition government has said the project is to be scrapped.

Devon and Somerset chief fire officer Lee Howell said the move meant it could now improve its own control rooms.

'Long overdue'

The Taunton centre was to be one of nine regional sites in a £423m scheme to replace 46 fire control centres in England.

It would have been in charge of dispatching fire crews in the Devon and Somerset, Dorset, Avon, Cornwall, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire brigade areas.

The centre was built but has been standing empty for about three years because of problems with its computers.

It was due to open in May 2011.

Critics raised concerns that if local knowledge was lost because calls were being answered in a regional centre instead of the service's two centres in Devon and Somerset, it could affect response times and risk lives.

Mr Howell said the service was now looking at how to improve its control rooms "to provide the best technology, maintain the quality of service and deliver this at an affordable price".

He added: "In the meantime, we will continue to provide the best level of service from our two control rooms until such time as we have determined our approach moving forward."

Fire Minister Bob Neill said agreement had been reached with main contractor Cassidian to end the project.

The Fire Brigades Union welcomed the decision as "long overdue".

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