Belmont Fire HQ could go live in May - brigade chief

The mothballed regional fire control centre, Belmont Business Park, Durham City

The mothballed regional fire control centre, Belmont Business Park, Durham City

First published in News The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter (Durham)

A MOTHBALLED fire control centre costing taxpayers more than £100,000 a month could finally be occupied by May, a brigade chief has said.

The specially built North East Fire Control Centre, in Belmont, Durham, was supposed to replace fire brigade HQs in Durham, Teesside, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland.

But it never saw action and the national reorganisation ended in abject failure, costing the taxpayer nearly £500m.

The 35,000sq ft Belmont facility, which cost £12.4m to build, has been idle since 2008 – costing the Government about £140,000 a month in rent and other fees.

Last summer, Durham fire brigade struck a deal to lease the building as its new 999 call handling centre and HQ when it vacates Framwellgate Moor.

Six months on, John Hewitt, the brigade treasurer, said the legal process of transferring the lease had been completed, some internal alterations were planned and the building could become operational in May.

He said: “It took a long time to get the lease sorted out but I’m comfortable we’re now on track.

“We’re looking at moving in in May.”

The last Labour government wanted to replace 46 fire HQs with nine regional command control centres. The Coalition scrapped the project in December 2010.

But with the taxpayer tied into a 20-year lease with the Control Centre General Partner, an offshore company based in Jersey and owned by City investment bank Evans Randall, it was feared the Belmont building could end up costing £46m by 2027.

Mr Hewitt said the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), which awarded the Durham brigade £1.8m towards reusing the building, had agreed to pay two-thirds of the ongoing rental costs.

“We’re trying to use it, because it’s in Durham, as long as it’s good value for Durham.

“I’m comfortable it’s as good a deal as any other building we’d get in Durham,” he said.

While Belmont will be a HQ and call centre, Durham’s new fire station is set to be off the A691 at Sniperley, on the city’s northern outskirts. Public consultation has begun and a planning application is expected in the next few weeks.

A training centre is set to move to Bowburn.

Peter Wilcox, North-East regional secretary of the Fire Brigades Union – which previously branded the regionalisation project an extraordinary waste of money, said: “We’re mindful that the changes have to happen in a pragmatic way. We can’t just close one building and move tomorrow.

“The brigade must ensure continuity of business.”

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