Shipley and Keighley MPs voice concerns

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By Anika Bourley

Two MPs in the Bradford district are calling for Government to scrap plans to merge the city's fire control centre and answer calls in Wakefield, fearing lives could be put at risk.

Under the FireControl project, first developed in 2004, the bases at Birkenshaw, Humberside, North Yorkshire and South Yorkshire will close and all calls will go through a new super-centre in Paragon Business Park in Wakefield.

The widely unpopular move had been due to take place in October 2011, but"technical problems with developing the IT system" means that will not now happen until July 2012.

Keighley MP Ann Cryer fears moving the call centres would take away vital local knowledge.

She said: "A little local knowledge goes a long way. If the operator answering the 999 call is miles away and not in Bradford, they may not know the area very well, and it can be a maze with the terraced streets.

"I can get lost after all these years. It is so important that people sending the crews out know the areas they are talking about.

"Merging centres will not suffice. We all know how annoying it is when we make a call and it goes to a call centre and people do not know what we are talking about.

"Obviously the fire centre would not be as bad but it is the same principle; you cannot beat local knowledge.

"It could be the difference in saving someone's life. I am not keen on the idea of merging as we will lose valued local knowledge."

Along with Shipley MP Philip Davies, she has signed a Commons motion demanding Government stop the merger and spend the money on upgrading individual control centres.

Mr Davies said: "I want what is best for people locally, and as far as I am concerned this is having centres locally rather than the obsession with regionalisation.

"I do not believe in regional government. There is a colossal amount of money being spent on this merger and it would be better used on services at a local level.

"When I have meetings with fire stations in Bingley and Shipley, I have not seen any enthusiasm on the ground for the move. Government should trust the professionals."

Ministers insist that everyone will benefit under the new nationally-linked regional network, with better protection for the public, and making the difficult job of firefighters more safe and effective, with access to hi-tech equipment.

But Councillor Mick Coulson, chairman of the Yorkshire and Humberside Fire Authorities' Regional Management Board, said: "I can fully understand, and share, the anger and frustration of MPs as they see the project soar over budget and suffer delay after delay through problems with IT systems.

"The board has been a dogged critic over the way the scheme has been handled within the Department of Communities and Local Government and is now openly fearful that unless the latest timescales are honoured, existing control room technologies will come to the end of their life before switchover."