Nearly £2m has been spent on an ‘urgent’ court building programme that has been lying dormant since 2010, the Gazette has learned.
A multi-million-pound court complex in Sunderland city centre for magistrates’, county and Crown courts was given the go-ahead in 2009. Some £1,086,303 has already been paid in architectural fees, with £876,353 paid to Sunderland City Council for the land.
However, the justice minister responsible said last week that the development’s future is uncertain. ‘It remains the position that no final decisions have been made about the future use of the land,’ Shailesh Vara told parliament. Vara said the architects’ fees were paid under the last government but did not say when the land purchase took place.
Labour MPs in Sunderland have been campaigning for the programme to be restarted as a matter of urgency.
Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, told the Gazette: ‘The government’s court rebuilding programme is in chaos. Repeatedly, ministers have claimed that the work was going ahead. Despite spending nearly £2m purchasing the land and commissioning architects, confusion remains over whether the rebuilding will proceed.’
Bridget Phillipson, MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, said the current magistrates’ court is not fit for purpose. ‘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,’ she wrote in a blog post.
The new courts would also deal with cases from Houghton, which lost its magistrates’ court in 2011.
To date, 138 courts have been closed under the 2010 courts estate reform programme, with three more scheduled to close.
However, ministers revealed last week that Bicester magistrates’ court in Oxfordshire will remain open despite being earmarked for closure.