Suffolk fire control centre still to move, says council

CONTROVERSIAL plans to centralise the region's fire command have been scrapped – but Suffolk's control centre will still move to Cambridgeshire.

Fire Minister Bob Neill told parliament that the scheme to centralise East Anglia's fire control at Waterbeach, near Cambridge – which has already cost �230m and is expected to run to �423m – was to be abolished.

But the announcement has come too late for Suffolk County Council, whose public protection scrutiny committee has just approved a decision by its Cabinet to move the county's control centre to the new base.

This was to be an interim measure until the Waterbeach centre was fully up and running, but Suffolk's deputy Chief Fire Officer Mark Hardingham said the move could now be permanent, if the new base met certain conditions.

The regional control centre is currently costing �166,000 a month to run, racking up bills of �6m since it was completed in 2008.

The centre has come under fire from councillors and the firefighters union, the FBU, for being too remote and too costly.

Following Monday's announcement, Andy Vingoe, chairman of Suffolk's FBU, said: 'I should be overjoyed because we've been saying for the last six years that fire control won't work, but unfortunately it's come too late.

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'I think we'll lose an awful lot of local knowledge. The people that work in fire control know their patch and we have got to remember they are dealing with people who are panicking and don't always know exactly where they are.'

Colin Spence, portfolio-holder for public protection at Suffolk County Council, confirmed the decision of the county's scrutiny committee would stand, even in the light of the government announcement.

John Field, committee chairman, said: 'I'm fairly incensed. We think they could have delayed this decision for a month and made it from a position of certainty.'

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