A QUESTION mark today hangs over plans for a new multimillion-pound court complex in Sunderland city centre.
Despite owning the land and drawing up plans, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has failed to commit to building the new facility at Farringdon Row.
Now Sunderland MPs Bridget Phillipson and Julie Elliott have called on the MoJ to come clean about its intentions for the site.
The multimillion-pound development – to include new magistrates’, county and crown courts – is earmarked for land opposite the existing magistrates’ building, which is in a poor condition.
The complex is seen as a vital part of the regeneration of the city. The new courts would also deal with cases from Houghton, which lost its own magistrates’ court under Government closures.
But repeated attempts to get answers over a timescale for the project have fallen on deaf ears, according to the city’s MPs.
A letter from Justice Minister Helen Grant MP – seen by the Echo – confirms that, despite the MoJ buying the site and architects drawing up plans, there remains confusion about whether the re-building will take place.
Ms Grant stated: “We are considering various options that would enable us to increase revenue and raise the investment required to modernise the facilities that HM Courts and Tribunals Service provides for its users.
“Any new investment proposals, such as the Sunderland scheme, would be part of those wider considerations of the HMCTS estate as a whole.
“I am therefore not able to provide any details about this, or indeed any other proposal for new courts or tribunals at this time.”
With Houghton Magistrates’ Court now closed and the Sunderland building in such a poor condition, MPs say there is a real urgency for the new facility tp be given the go-ahead.
In a response to Ms Grant, Ms Phillipson and Ms Elliot are demanding an urgent meeting with the minister to press Sunderland’s case.
Ms Phillipson, Houghton and Sunderland South MP, said: “I know from speaking to local magistrates how keen they are that rebuilding work goes ahead.
“Victims of crime deserve court facilities fit for the 21st century. I’m disappointed that the minister has refused to meet us to discuss our concerns.
“We will keep up the pressure until we get answers and we have again written to the minister asking to meet in person.”
Ms Elliott, Sunderland Central MP, said: “The Government’s court rebuilding programme is in chaos. Repeatedly, ministers have claimed that the work was going ahead.
“We need certainty about the Government’s intentions. The site earmarked for the new courts premises is vital to the regeneration of the city centre.”
A spokesperson for Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service said: “HMCTS keeps the use of its estate under review in order to make the best use of resources and facilities for users and taxpayers alike.
“Any new investment proposals, such as the Sunderland scheme, would be part of the considerations for this wider reform work.”