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Cumbria's fire control room to be closed despite long battle

Cockermouth's fire control room will be lost after the Government yesterday agreed £8.4 million to push through a new regional call centre.

It comes more than a year after ministers vowed to dump a near-identical scheme.

It means all Cumbrian 999 fire calls will be dealt with from a new base in Warrington, set to open in 2014.

But the Cockermouth control room will actually close much sooner than that, in June this year, as calls are to be dealt with from Cheshire in the interim period.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has been fighting against the move. A petition, backed by all six of the county’s MPs, has been signed by 21,000 people in Cumbria.

Morven Anson, who chairs the FBU’s control branch and works in the Cockermouth command centre, believes bosses should have at least tried to keep the control room in Cumbria until Warrington was up and running.

“The fact that this money has been approved isn’t a great surprise. What our campaign has been focusing on mainly is the Cheshire move.

“The sad thing is that if they’d put a caveat in the proposal to say that central government needed to continue to fund a control room in Cumbria in the meantime, then I think the money would have been granted,” she said.

Yesterday Cumbria County Council – together with the fire authorities in Cheshire, Lancashire and Manchester – were jointly awarded the £8.4m to push through the Warrington project, which will see a new state-of-the-art control room built.

It is the same site as originally proposed by Labour in the party’s ill-fated, and enormously-expensive, FiReControl project – scrapped by the Coalition in 2010.

A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) agreed that the only difference was that Merseyside fire authority had now opted out.

Merseyside was instead awarded £1.8m for its own command centre, having concluded that a region-wide scheme would cost jobs and local knowledge. A DCLG spokesman said: “It does look like the same project, yes, but the fire authorities have decided this is the best solution in their areas.”

Bob Neill, the fire minister, said the plan had passed the tests of delivering improvements to “resilience, efficiency and technology”.

And he said: “The Coalition Government is adopting a more localist approach to help secure improvements in national resilience, rather than trying to impose a forced regionalisation of the fire service. These locally-led bids show we can strengthen national resilience and adopt new technology to save lives, without top-down Whitehall micro-management.”

The grant to Cumbria, Cheshire, Lancashire and Manchester is the highest sum in the country, because the scheme will deliver “additional savings to the public”, Mr Neill said. Crucially it will make use of the Warrington building, which – critics had argued – would be a “white elephant” with the demise of FiReControl.

The announcement brings to an end the long-running saga of Labour’s attempts to create nine regional centres, at a cost of more than £1bn.

Have your say

I've had first hand experience of an 999 call where the call handler had no local knowledge - they insisted I was on a beach with the same name 20miles away, fortunately I knew I was right and convinced them I was right. I my case it turned out to be a false alarm (RNLI were firing flares as part of a practice at night) but lives could have been lost. But I guess it boils down to cost saving before anything else....

Posted by alan brown on 5 March 2012 at 12:20

Jay, I imagine many of us will remember the move especially when we're seeing headlines on this site along the lines of "call out delays cause fire misery". And where will those be that defended the move be then! Just because it's happening does not make it right.

Posted by Me on 4 March 2012 at 19:42

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