Plans for Justice Centre in Sunderland to replace '˜crumbling' court building scrapped
Plans to create a new multi-million pound justice centre in Sunderland have been scrapped, with the city's 'crumbling' magistrates court building set to be upgraded instead.
The Government’s decision was revealed in a letter from Justice Minister Lucy Frazer to city MPs Bridget Phillipson and Julie Elliott, who say Wearsiders have been “badly let down” by the move.
The letter explains that an assessment by HM Courts & Tribunals Service Property Board concluded that investment in the Magistrates’ Court is considered to be more feasible than a new build option.
It also contains a commitment to reinvest £825,000 that had been earmarked for a new build project in upgrading the court.
However, both MPs, who have campaigned for the creation of a new centre for justice centre in Sunderland for a number of years, say there are potential problems with the plan, arguing that previous indications that the necessary improvements to the Magistrates’ Court could not be made, while also raising doubts about the Government’s commitment to reinvesting the full £825,000 upgrading costs.
Since 2010, Ms Phillipson has tabled over 50 written and oral parliamentary questions to the Ministry of Justice, and held meetings with successive justice ministers.
About £2million has been spent buying land and drawing up plans for a new Sunderland Centre for Justice at Farringdon Row.
Ms Phillipson said: “I am disappointed that after eight years of dither and delay, the Government has announced that plans for a new state-of-the-art Centre for Justice will be scrapped in favour of an option which was previously written off as unfeasible.
“The people of Sunderland have been badly let down by the sheer length of time it took the government to make a decision - wasting huge sums of taxpayers’ money in the process.
“Now they have been let down again by a decision which will see them denied the modern, accessible courts they deserve.
Sign up to our daily newsletter
The i newsletter cut through the noise
“Given the doubts that were raised about the feasibility of upgrades to the existing Magistrates’ Court, there remain many unanswered questions as to how the necessary improvements will be made to this crumbling building.
“If work is now to go ahead, it is essential that the £825,000 set aside for a new build is reinvested – and both Julie and I will be seeking a meeting with the Justice Minister in the coming weeks to ensure this is the case.”
Ms Elliott said: “It is disappointing to learn that after eight years of campaigning on this issue and pressing the Government to make a decision, there is to be no new Centre for Justice in Sunderland.
“This is despite the overwhelming need for a modern courts complex that is fit for crime victims and court staff, neither of whom are served by the dilapidated condition of the Magistrates’ Court.
“Throughout this sorry saga we 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.
“While a decision finally seems to have been made, I remain concerned about whether the proposed course of action is even viable, especially given that such a plan was previously considered unworkable.
“Despite the Government’s rhetoric about its commitment to the north, it is simply unwilling to invest in our region or deliver the up-to-date facilities our city needs.”
An HM Courts & Tribunals Service spokesperson said: “We are committed to investing in Sunderland and will spend £5.7m over ten years upgrading the current magistrates’ court - creating two new courtrooms, improving access, redecorating, and providing a better space for all users.
“This is the most efficient and cost-effective option - ensuring the building better meets everyone’s needs while delivering savings for the taxpayer.”