Somerset

Calls for empty fire HQ in Taunton to be occupied

Empty fire HQ at Taunton
Image caption The site was one of nine planned regional fire control centres that was never opened

Fire union officials say an empty fire control centre needs to be filled to prevent more public money being wasted.

The unoccupied building in Taunton has now cost more than £16m in charges.

It was one of nine planned regional centres, but computer problems led to the project being scrapped in 2010 and it was never opened.

The FBU called for more efforts to get businesses to use the site. The area's MP said she was "confident" a deal could be done.

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Media captionTam McFarlane called it a "scandalous waste of taxpayers' money"

Figures obtained by the BBC through an FoI request show the centre cost the government £16.7m in rent, utilities and management up until the end of last year - almost double the £8.9m it cost to build.

The Taunton site was one of nine planned regional control centres, to replace 46 separate centres across the country.

But in 2010, with costs spiralling and major delays to the IT software programme, the coalition government cancelled the scheme.

Five sites - in Durham, Warrington, London, Fareham and Wolverhampton - have since been sub-let or transferred, but buildings in Taunton, Cambridge, Castle Donington and Wakefield are still empty.

Image caption The unoccupied building in Taunton has now cost more than £16m in charges

Tam McFarlane, from the Devon and Somerset Fire Brigades Union, called the Taunton building a "scandalous waste of taxpayers' money".

"In recent years we've had jobs slashed, our front line services have been dangerously cut and all the time, when we're getting told to make efficiency savings, the government's pouring millions of pounds into what is essentially a white elephant."

He added it was "extraordinary that politicians can't find people to take it over".

Rebecca Pow, the Conservative MP for Taunton Deane, said she was "deeply disappointed" and "confident something will eventually be sorted out".

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Media captionRebecca Pow said she was "deeply disappointed"

She said she was working with the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to try to get a deal to "at least get a business into part of it, and get some contribution towards the payments".

Ms Pow said the problem lay with a contract that had been signed by the previous Labour government, which meant the landlord was guaranteed an income up to 2027.

"He doesn't have to do anything, he's under no obligation whatsoever to be lenient or to work with any other business that might want to use a bit of the building."

The website of the firm which is marketing the Taunton site shows it is currently "under offer".

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