Page last updated at 09:19 GMT, Thursday, 1 April 2010 10:19 UK

MPs criticise plans for fire control centre in Taunton

New regional control room in Taunton
It was meant to open in October 2009 but has been delayed until May 2011

A government project to answer all 999 fire calls in the south-west of England from a centre in Somerset has been criticised by a committee of MPs.

The government defended the plan and said a regional centre in Taunton would cut costs and improve response times.

But a report by the communities and local government select committee said the project has been "badly managed".

The new control room would cover Devon, Cornwall, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Dorset and the former Avon area.

'Frankly madness'

The Taunton-based control room would be one of nine new regional centres across England.

Dr Phyliss Starkey, chairman of the government select committee, said the blame for the delays and spiralling costs lies with the government and the IT contractor.

She said: "The original aims and expected benefits of this scheme were, in our view, sound. [But] FireControl is yet another catalogue of further poor judgement and mismanagement."

This project is finished, it can't work and it won't work, so we have to invest in the current fire and rescue centres we have
Tam Macfarlane - Fire Brigades Union

Tam Macfarlane, the regional officer for the Fire Brigades Union in Somerset, said: "The idea that you can close down seven fire control centres with a geography like the south west and replace it with one was always frankly madness.

"It was never going to work. It's never too late to stop making a mistake and we certainly think to tinker around the edges is a bit like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

"This project is finished, it can't work and it won't work, so we have to invest in the current fire and rescue centres we have. That's what's best for the service."

The government's chief fire and rescue adviser, Sir Ken Knight, defended the new control centre in Taunton.

He said: "The buildings are in use. They're in use by those local fire and rescue services and they're being populated with equipment.

'integrated network'

"There are some 200 fire stations now across the country that have already got the equipment on the fire stations ready to go, so I think we'll quickly see those buildings becoming greater use than they are now.

"I look forward to them being a part of that integrated network that will connect the south west with the rest of the country."

The building, which is located near to junction 25 of the M5, was completed in 2007 and is costing £4,692 a day to run. Fifteen people are currently working there but are not answering 999 calls.

The centre was meant to start taking 999 calls in October 2009 but this is now not expected to begin until at least May 2011.

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