The Lancashire County Council Emergency Centre in Lea Road, Preston was built in 1956. It is located partially in the basement but mostly under the rear garden of Westleigh House a former mill owners house on the western outskirts of the town. The county’s emergency planning is still controlled from Westleigh House and the Emergency Centre below is still fully equipped and maintained and ready for use in the event of a major incident.
Our guides for this visit were Emergency Planning Office Mike Wagstaff and a former scientific advisor from UKWMO at Goosnargh (Longley Lane). Although the bunker appears to be below ground it is actually at ground level. When the house was built in the last century the water table was found to be only a few inches below the surface so the basement of the house was built above ground and the ground built up in front of it so the ground floor above it appeared to be at ground level.
At the rear of the house the garden is at the original ground level and this is where the bunker was built. It was covered over with soil and grassed and now appears as a very high mound in the rear garden. The blast doors linking the house from the bunker have been taken out and replaced by ordinary doors. The basement part of the bunker contains the ventilation plant room with the plant dating back to the 1950’s. Although the plant is still operational it is not used and the room is used for general storage. The standby generator is in an adjacent room. This was replaced in the late 1980’s and is still fully operational.
From this point we pass out of the basement into the bunker entering a reception area with doors into a fully equipped kitchen and canteen and another door leading into the twin communications rooms which contain computer terminals and a number of transceivers, including two operated by Raynet. The government SX2000 ECN telephone exchange in its Faraday Cage is also found in the second of the communications rooms. All the walls are covered information sheets.
Returning to the main reception area, another door leads into the main operations room at the centre of the bunker with another door leading from there into the emergency services communications room with transceivers linked to each of the emergency services (fire police and ambulance) but at the military desk there is just an aerial plug and cable, they bring their transceiver with them each time they attend an exercise.
A door at the far end of the operations room leads in to a large ‘L’ shaped agency room with a computer terminal point, telephone and desk for each agency that needs to be represented including local wildlife groups. At the far end of the agency room one of the few remaining blast doors leads back into the basement into what is described as the liaison room laid out as a briefing roof with rows of seats, TV, video and projectors. Alongside the liaison room there are two store rooms one of which contains an emergency exit hatch consisting of a ladder up to an ROC type hatch in the garden. There is a second emergency exit consisting of twin blast doors alongside the generator room. The bunker has never had any dormitories and the only toilets were chemical one and these have now been removed.
Those taking part in the visit were Nick Catford and Andrew Smith
The Lancashire County Council War HQ at Westleigh House, Lea is being is for sale. The County Emergency Planning Team who currently use the site and manage incidents from the former war room, are to move to alternative accommodation on the east side of Preston at a call centre called the Red Rose Hub.
The sale of the Westleigh site first appeared in the local newspaper last summer at which time the County Council denied that the property was for sale. On 3rd April 2007 the Lancashire Evening Post announced that the caretaker and his family who livein a flat on the site, have been given notice to quit by the County Council so that the property can be put on the market.