Somerset

Regional fire control centre plans 'to go ahead'

The firefighters' union has renewed calls for the new regional fire control centre in Taunton to be scrapped.

The opening of the centre, which replaces control rooms throughout the south-west of England, is already four years behind schedule.

Every day it is empty costs tax-payers £5,000 and the Fire Brigades Union said government plans to cut regionalisation meant the centre must go.

But Whitehall has said the scheme can proceed unless there are more delays.

Contractor EADS, which will run the centre, has insisted the facility, which was announced in 2005, will open next May.

The company said it would meet government targets for finishing the £423m project on time and it would deliver benefits for the public.

The centre was built in 2007 but has yet to answer a single 999 call.

In April, a committee of MPs called the project "inadequately planned, poorly executed and badly managed".

But they said it would cost more to scrap the centre than to bring it on line.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said cost and quality criteria must be met for regional centres to go ahead.

But John Drake, of the Fire Brigades' Union, told the BBC question marks still hung over the whole project.

"There are still huge issues over the technology, which I don't think will be overcome," he said.

"No-one in the fire service other than a handful of senior managers think that these regional centres are a good idea.

Image caption John Drake said the Taunton centre will provide worse service for the public

"They may be cheaper in the short-term, but we don't see any benefit coming to the public or firefighters, indeed in the long-term they will be an extra burden on the tax-payer."

Fire control centres in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Bristol, Gloucestershire, Dorset and Wiltshire would be closed and their work transferred to the new centre on a sliding timetable to be completed by March 2012.

Mr Drake said: "We are just calling on the government to carry out a pledge to scrap regional centres that the Lib Dems and Conservatives made before the election.

"If it goes ahead, firefighters will feel duped."

The DCLG said county fire and rescue authorities (FRAs) now had the freedom to choose not to join regional schemes.

"FRAs will now be able to collaborate in ways and in forums which best suit their own and their neighbouring FRAs' local circumstances," a spokeswoman said.

But Mr Drake said the south-west's FRAs may have no choice but to join up to the regional scheme because budget cuts to local councils may mean they can no longer run local fire control centres.

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