Fire chiefs are finally about to move into their new HQ a year after the £150,000-a-month centre was left standing empty.
It has emerged Durham fire officers will move to the site in September as the government scheme behind the new building has come in for more criticism.
The empty building in Belmont Business Park had been intended as the home of the North East Fire Control Centre, merging all the region’s operations.
But when this idea was scrapped in 2010 the site, and others like it across England, was left empty. With contracts already signed though, the rent for the vacant building started stacking up.
More than £2m will have been spent on the building so far, at a time when brigades across the region face deep spending cuts.
And while Durham officers are finally set to move in, nationally the picture is much worse. A programme to replace the discredited scheme has already slipped, and savings are less than predicted, a committee of MPs has found.
The Public Accounts Committee heaped more criticism on to the project, originally drawn up to build control centres across England.
The original FiReControl project, announced by the previous Labour Government, was one of the worst cases of project failure the committee had seen, wasting at least £482m of taxpayers’ money, the report said. Labour MP Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, said: “Three years after the project was cancelled, the DCLG still hasn’t decided what it is going to do with many of the specially designed, high-specification facilities and buildings which had been built.
“Four of the nine regional control centres are still empty and look likely to remain so.
“Seven of the 22 projects are reportedly running late and two have been delayed by 12 months. We are therefore sceptical that projected savings, benefits and timescales will be achieved.”
In Durham, HQ staff will move into the new site in September, with command and control services moving in a few months later. The former HQ is likely to be sold , helping recover some of the costs already wasted on renting an empty building. A Communities and Local Government spokesman last night said: “This Government has taken decisive action to protect taxpayers’ interests, cancelling the flawed FiReControl contract, which was over budget, behind schedule and failed to work.
“A programme of locally determined improvements have been put in place which are increasing collaboration, efficiency and resilience across fire authorities’ 999 control room arrangements . This includes better technology and faster and more reliable fall-back arrangements.”