FIRE chiefs in Durham are to take over a multi-million-pound control centre which has lain empty for four years, it was confirmed yesterday.
The complex, at Belmont, Durham, was one of nine built for fire services in England at a cost of almost £470m.
It would have replaced fire control rooms in Northumberland, Durham, Teesside and Tyne and Wear, but the scheme was scrapped in 2010. Durham Fire Service yesterday confirmed it was to take over the Belmont site.
The fire control project aimed to abolish 46 local fire and rescue control rooms around the country and replace them with nine centres linked by a new IT system.
It was hoped it would provide a better response to emergencies, such as terrorist attacks, floods and rail crashes.
But delays and rising costs meant the project was scrapped in December 2010 - 33 months after the Durham centre was completed.
A report by parliament’s public accounts committee reported last year that the project had been “flawed from the outset” due to IT problems and local opposition.
The report concluded the mothballed project, launched by Lord Prescott, the former deputy prime minister, was one of the worst ever wastes of public money and that the nine centres were empty “white elephants”. Taxpayers had to pay £93,033 in rent every month for the empty building.
Yesterday the Durham and Darlington fire and rescue authority announced its headquarters will move there from the current building in Framwellgate Moor, Durham. Land close to that site, where Durham police headquarters currently stands at Aykley Heads, has been earmarked for 230 new houses.
Durham police also intend to move to a more streamlined HQ on what are currently sports fields next door.
The fire authority yesterday issued a statement saying: “Following productive negotiations with the Fire Minister and Department forCommunities and Local Government (DCLG), agreement has been reached for County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Authority to take over the lease of the former Regional Control Centre in Belmont, Durham.
“The conclusion of negotiations will now enable the authority to progress with its plans to implement a new, state of the art 999 call handling and mobilising system, as well as relocating its HQ functions to the building.”
John Hewitt, the authority’s director of corporate resources, said “Reaching agreement to take over the building at Belmont in Durham is excellent news for the fire authority and for local communities in County Durham and Darlington.
“The building is a state of the art facility which provides a resilient base from which to provide our 999 control room and HQ functions.
“This building is central to our plans to modernise other parts of our estate as we look to continue to improve the services and facilities that are available in County Durham and Darlington.
“Final legal details are now being concluded and we expect the lease to be formally transferred to the Authority sometime in June. ” Coun Gordon Tennant, the authority’s chairman said “The fire authority and DCLG have been working extremely hard to agree a deal to ensure the building in Durham is used for the benefit of our communities.
“This agreement provides the fire authority with an opportunity to further improve the excellent services that are offered to local people in County Durham and Darlington and we will ensure that the building is put to good use.”