The Uttlesford District Council Emergency Centre at Saffron Walden in Essex was one of the last local authority bunkers to be built not being completed until 1990. The bunker is located in the basement of the Uttlesford District Council offices which are in the old Saffron Walden Hospital which closed in 1988. A new extension was built to one side of the old hospital building with the bunker taking up a large proportion of the basement. The cost of the bunker itself was £375,000 of which the council received a 75% grant from the Government. Unlike many other council bunkers, this one remains fully operational with nothing having been stripped out.
Close to the bottom of the basement stairs is a heavy steel and concrete blast door giving access to the bunker. Inside this door is a small lobby area with two further blast doors and a small decontamination area with a shower. One of these blast doors leads into the standby generator room where the generator is still in place and operational. Unusually a second hand generator from the old hospital, was installed. The room is also used as a workshop and there is a further small blast door in the rear wall.
Returning to the lobby, the second blast door leads into the bunker leading to what is described on the plan as the emergency planning room but it must have been more of a general congregating room as there is a serving bar and behind it the fully fitted kitchen and food storage area. From this room there is direct access to 5 rooms, the toilet, ventilation plant room, communications centre, operations room and dormitory. The dormitory still contains its metal framed bunks and mattresses and at one side is a small tilting bed as found in doctors examination rooms, this was obviously their ‘sick bay’.
At the back of this room there is another small blast door in the wall giving access to a horizontal concrete tube. This is about 30 feet long bending through 45 degrees into the bottom of a wide vertical shaft with step irons. The emergency exit emerges in the bushes to one side of the building and next to it, in the bushes, is the lattice radio mast.
The toilet has three cubicles, each with a chemical toilet installed and a washing area. Everything is plumbed in and usable with hand operated pumps. The ventilation plant room is narrow with similar plant and filtration units fitted in most other recent bunkers, again there is a small blast door in the rear walls.
The ‘L’ shaped communications room has numerous radio transceivers installed including those used by Raynet, and along one wall is the SX50 ECN unit.
The largest room in the bunker is the operations room which has a semi circular wall along one side and a central supporting concrete pillar. It is arranged with tables and chairs for the various agency staff, each table with two coloured telephones, one white and one red. There are maps around the curved wall. The controllers room is accessed from the operations room.
This is one of the most complete emergency centres we have seen and credit should be given to the emergency planning officer and his staff who keep it in good order. It is regularly used for exercises and is made available to local school groups and other interested parties. Although the threat of nuclear war has gone, Uttlesford District Council still take emergency planning very seriously with regular local flooding, the M11 motorway and Stanstead Airport within their area of responsibility.
Those taking part in the visit were Nick Catford, Dave Farrant, Caroline Ford, Duncan Halford, Keith Ward.