CHESHIRE Fire Authority has agreed to be a part of a North West regional control centre project once dubbed ‘almost an unmitigated disaster’ because of costs and delays.
The Warrington-based centre, due to have gone live in 2009, was the brainchild of the last Labour Government which planned to set up nine regional control centres to take over from 46 local control rooms in England.
But the £420m-plus delayed project has been dogged by computer problems leading Labour MP Clive Betts to describe it as ‘almost an unmitigated disaster throughout the course of its life’.
Uncertainty around the project meant Cheshire decided to invest £300,000 in an overdue modernisation of its existing control room at Winsford.
Merseyside Fire Service has now pulled out of the project but Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester and Lancashire brigades will operate from there after June 2014. Cheshire says it will make ongoing annual savings of £360,000.
In the run-up to the project going ‘live’ there has been a control room merger between Cheshire and Cumbria fire services sparking concerns from the Fire Brigades’ Union.
Since June all 999 calls for Cumbria Fire Service have been handled at Cheshire Fire and Rescue’s Winsford headquarters, leading to allegations about mobilisation problems in Cumbria.
Cheshire FBU representative Dave Williams believes reduced staffing levels covering Cumbria and Cheshire doesn’t bode well for the regional control centre and fears 999 calls will be stacked at busy times.