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Julie Elliott MP: The sorry saga of Sunderland Magistrates’ Court

Sunderland Magistrates' Court.
Sunderland Magistrates' Court.
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The people of Sunderland have this week been badly let down by the Government’s decision to drop plans for a new Centre for Justice and just upgrade the old magistrates’ court instead.

My colleague Bridget Phillipson MP and I have campaigned since 2010 for a building that is fit for purpose. A building in which victims of crime and court staff can feel safe and secure.

The old magistrates’ court, which dates to 1907, is a Listed Building and an important part of our history. I completely support it being preserved and protected as a significant city cultural point.

However, as a modern court, this Edwardian building is just not fit for purpose. It is also difficult to see just how improvements can be made – given previous indications that this option is not viable.

Around £2million has already been spent by the Government on buying land, as well as drawing up plans, for a potential new Central for Justice at Farringdon Row. Money now obviously wasted.

Six successive Courts Ministers dodged making a final decision on the project and, instead of getting on with building the facility we were promised, the Ministry of Justice just ordered repairs instead.

These repairs amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds – an additional cost which could have been avoided if ministers had made an initial decision when we first raised the issue eight years ago. Throughout this sorry saga the people of Sunderland have been let down badly by Tory Ministers, who have repeatedly kicked this issue into the long grass, at considerable cost to the public purse.

Now, after all these years, the Government is claiming that reinvestment in the old court is more feasible than building a new one – despite previous indications this option would not be possible.

A proposed commitment of £825,000 – originally earmarked for the new complex – has been given. However, given the original doubts over the feasibility of upgrades, there remain many unanswered questions.

It is obvious, despite the Government’s rhetoric about its commitment to the north, that it is simply unwilling to invest in our region or deliver the up-to-date facilities our city needs.

I now intend, along with Bridget, to seek a further meeting with the Justice Minister to discuss this matter. It is vital that we secure what Sunderland deserves – a court fit for purpose.