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Deal in sight for £10m Wolverhampton fire control building no-one wants

Wolverhampton | News | Published:

Property?experts are in 'active discussions' with an occupier to take over a £10 million fire control headquarters in Wolverhampton that was abandoned before ever opening, it was revealed today.

Plans to open the site as a regional control centre for the fire service were scrapped before it was even finished and has never had a tenant.

Taxpayers will have to pick up its £48 million rental bill over a 25-year lease if a tenant is never found while the public purse also continues to cover its round-the-clock security and electricity.

Total running costs including rent are around £1.8m a year but the site is now being offered to other businesses for just £450,000.

The taxpayer will have to make up the shortfall if no new agreement can be reached.

The Government's Department for Communities and Local Government has brought in property consultants GVA to market the building and the company says it has found a potential occupier and hopes it can release good news in the coming months.

It comes after senior civil servant Sir Bob Kerslake admitted the centre 'was not appropriate to the needs of the country', when it was created.

It can also be revealed today that GVA used the £39,000 budget it was given by Whitehall to market the centre directly to a list of 2,500 prospective occupiers the firm agreed with the Government.

The company would however not reveal the identity, nor the sector, of the potential occupier for the site.

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Andrew Venables, director of GVA, said it has marketed the building to sectors which 'included' emergency services, call centres, medical, security, education, local authorities, disaster recovery and data handling'.

He added: "As a result of this activity, the Wolverhampton Control Centre has received a number of serious inquiries from a range of potential occupiers operating in those sectors already identified.

"GVA is in active discussions with a potential occupier and we hope to make a positive announcement in due course."

The fire control centre built at Wolverhampton Business Park is now being offered for rent at £450,000 a year.

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But taxpayers are still funding £5,000 a day in rent, security, electricity and utility bills for the 30,000sq ft building. It includes specialist equipment and plant rooms, storage space and full catering facilities – including a £6,000 espresso coffee machine inside it that was paid for by taxpayers.

Ex-deputy prime minister John Prescott was behind the scheme to replace 46 fire control rooms with nine regional centres, including the one at the business park just off junction 2 of the M54.

Costs however soared from £120m to £635m – meaning the move could no longer go ahead.

The Wolverhampton building was meant to bring the control rooms of West Midlands, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Warwickshire, Hereford and Worcester fire services under one roof.

None of them however wanted to move there.

Four out of the nine centres nationally have either been sold or rented but GVA has been brought in to market the remaining five, including Wolverhampton, Cambridge, Taunton, Wakefield and Castle Donington.

The Government has been allowed to market the building as the company which owns them, Control Centre General Partner Limited, went into receivership.

Previously terms of the lease restricted the use of the buildings to government departments. Both Staffordshire and West Midlands fire services said they had no interest in taking on the site.

West Midlands Fire Service decided to spend £20m on a new headquarters in Nechells, Birmingham, in 2009. Four out of the nine regional control centres nationally have either been sold or rented.

A report by the National Audit Office dubbed the ill-fated project a "comprehensive failure". The Wolverhampton Business Park site has at least two security staff present at all times.

The taxpayer forked out £5,000 in 2010 for catering for meetings at the centre.

It cost £428 a month for catering while meetings of fire service staff, Government officials, contractors and councillors were held to try to get major problems with computer equipment resolved.

The centre was plagued by technical problems after building work began in 2006 and was completed in 2008.

Five members of staff who were seconded to the site from the five services that make up the region were made redundant when officials decided it would not be brought into full use.

Furniture at the centre was sold or divided up between fire services as the Government tried to minimise its losses.

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