The future of Sunderland’s court complex will become clearer in just a few months’ time, it has been announced.
After years of campaigning for a new Sunderland Centre for Justice, MPs Bridget Phillipson and Julie Elliott have secured a pledge from Courts and Justice Minister Sir Oliver Heald that the Ministry of Justice is “actively working on the issue and will have a clear direction by the end of March next year”.
The minister issued the pledge during a meeting with the two Sunderland MPs this week.
Over the last six years, Ms Phillipson has tabled over 30 written and oral parliamentary questions on the courts rebuild to the Ministry of Justice.
Both Wearside MPs have been campaigning on this issue since Houghton Magistrates Court was closed in 2011 on the understanding that a new modern courts complex was to be built in Sunderland.
Although £2million of taxpayer money has been spent buying land and drawing up plans for a new Sunderland Centre for Justice at Farringdon Row, to date no decision has yet been taken on the rebuild.
The Sunderland Magistrates Court building is now over a century old.
Ms Phillipson said: “I am delighted that progress is finally being made on the new Sunderland Centre for Justice after so much delay.
“The Courts Minister confirmed to Julie Elliott MP and I that his department is actively working on this issue and will have a clear direction by the end of March 2017.
“I know that many people in my constituency and the Sunderland area will be pleased to hear the Government issue this timetable commitment.
“The current court facilities in the city are simply not fit for either crime victims or court staff.
“The people of Sunderland deserve better, which is why Julie Elliott and I have campaigned so hard over the last six years for the new courts complex that we so desperately need.
“I hope that the Ministry of Justice will now make a swift decision on the rebuild before the March deadline.
“However, constituents should be assured that we will continue to campaign on this issue to ensure that the Government does not try to dodge or delay this decision again.”
Julie Elliott added: “Bridget and I have been pushing the Government to commit to building a modern court complex in Sunderland six years now, so I’m delighted that at long last there is movement on this issue.
“Our 109-year old magistrates’ court is no longer fit for purpose which is why it’s vital that people in Sunderland get the Centre for Justice that they deserve.’
“If the Government is really serious about the so-called Northern Powerhouse scheme, it must take action to make critical projects like this a reality.’
“I want to assure my constituents that I will continue to push the Government to ensure that they do not stall on this issue so the people of Sunderland have a court complex fit for their needs.”