London Assembly criticises Airwave delays

7/7 committee report has highlighted problems and delays in rolling out the radio network across the police, ambulance and fire services

A report into the 7/7 bombings in London two years ago has raised fresh concerns about the capacity and coverage of the Airwave emergency services digital-radio network in the capital.

The latest London Assembly 7/7 committee report says, despite significant progress in implementing its recommendations to improve emergency plans and procedures, there are still problems and delays in implementing the Airwave network across the ambulance, fire and police services.

The Metropolitan Police Service will complete its delayed rollout of Airwave next month but the London Ambulance Service and London Fire Brigade will have to wait until September 2008 and November 2008 respectively.

One of the main concerns highlighted by the Metropolitan Police is that the original Airwave contracts do not provide for coverage in buildings or in vehicles — only in the open air. This has forced the Met to spend extra money for coverage in sites of strategic importance, such as Wembley Stadium and Heathrow Airport — the project at Heathrow costing £2.4m.

There have also been problems with the capacity of the Airwave network and the Met said that, at the forthcoming Notting Hill Carnival, it will have to place restrictions on non-essential use of Airwave to reduce the risk of the network becoming too busy.

Other problems experienced during the Met's Airwave rollout include radios unexpectedly resetting themselves, backlight functions not working properly, poor battery life and difficulties training officers to use the new radios.

The London Ambulance Service rollout has also been hit by delays and the latest projection is for completion by September 2008, although the service told the 7/7 committee there is still "some risk to the rollout dates".

One of the technical issues for the London Ambulance Service is that a significant number of base stations in London will need to be upgraded to provide enough Airwave network capacity.

The implementation of Airwave across the London Fire Brigade was due to have been completed earlier this year but the latest projection is now for November 2008. This is because of delays with the national Firelink communications contract signed last year.

The project to provide Airwave coverage below ground so it can be used on the London Underground network is scheduled to be complete by August 2008 and new driver radio communications will be in place across the underground, as part of the Connect project, by the end of this year.

The committee chairman and London Assembly member Richard Barnes said more work is needed to improve London's ability to respond to a major incident such as a terrorist attack.

He said in the report: "Our report highlights continuing problems with Airwave that need to be tackled to ensure emergency service personnel have access to the robust and effective communications systems they need. Anything less would sell them and the Londoners they serve short."