Sunderland MP demands progress on new court complex

Sunderland Magistrates Court.
Sunderland Magistrates Court.
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NO decision has been made yet on the future of Sunderland’s planned multi-million-pound court complex.

The development – to include new magistrates’, county and crown courts – is earmarked for land opposite the existing court building, now more than 100 years old.

But despite the plans being given the go-ahead in 2009, work on the project has yet to get under way.

MP Bridget Phillipson is now calling for courts and legal aid minister Shailesh Vara to visit Sunderland after raising the issue again in Parliament.

The Houghton and Sunderland South MP demanded to know if any progress has been made on the plans since the Ministry of Justice confirmed it was committed to pressing ahead with them in February 2011.

But Mr Vara, MP for North-West Cambridgeshire, responded: “No decision has been made on the future use of the site which was proposed for the Sunderland Justice Centre.

“All significant estate decisions, including new investment proposals such as the Sunderland scheme, are assessed and considered through departmental governance processes to ensure that they offer value for money to the taxpayer.”

HM Courts and Tribunals Service has spent £23.5million on plans to build 10 new courts across the country, but work was put on hold due to spending cuts in 2013.

Industry magazine the Law Society Gazette has reported that nine projects were deferred, with seven of those later being cancelled.

Some £1,086,303 has already been paid in architectural fees, with £876,353 given to Sunderland City Council for the land.

MPs in Sunderland have been campaigning for progress as a matter of urgency.

Ms Phillipson added: “Houghton court was closed on the understanding that a new modern courts complex was to be built in Sunderland.

“The Ministry of Justice spent £2million of our money buying land and drawing up plans for a new Sunderland Justice Centre in Farringdon Row, adjacent to the Vaux site.

“Many local residents expressed their concern about the delay in starting building work and the impact this is having on our city.

“Sadly, the plans have come to a standstill.”

The complex is also seen as a vital part of the city’s regeneration.

Plans had been mooted to turn the existing magistrates’ court into a heritage centre in 2017.

The recently-formed Sunderland Music and Culture Trust, led by Paul Callaghan, aired the plans on its website as part of a drive to revitalise the city centre.