SUNDERLAND’S planned new court complex is still in limbo – five years after ministers first put the plans on hold, says a city MP.
Houghton and Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson challenged Justice Minister Shailesh Vara on the state of the plans in the House of Commons this week.
After five years of dithering and dallying, the people of Wearside are no closer to knowing when – or even if – they will get a new court.
She said: “In 2010, the Government put on hold plans to rebuild Sunderland’s court complex, and answers to recent parliamentary questions reveal what we have always feared — that no decision was ever likely to be taken in this Parliament.”
The minister replied saying the Government had put in place a five-year reform programme of Britain’s courts – but made no reference to Sunderland.
Ms Phillipson, who has been campaigning for a new court with Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott since the closure of Houghton Magistrates’ Court, said there was still no indication of what was happening with the plans.
“The Government announced the Court Reform Programme in 2013,” she said.
“But they have allocated no resources and no staff to it whatsoever – it exists in name only.
“The latest answer confirms what we have always feared, that no decisions are likely to be taken this side of an election.
“A plan with no resources is no plan at all.
“After five years of dithering and dallying, the people of Wearside are no closer to knowing when – or even if – they will get a new court. A new Centre for Justice is a vital part of plans to regenerate the city centre and to create jobs for our area.
“It’s disappointing the Government have failed to act, but I will keep up the fight for our area.”
The Farringdon Row site was one of the plots bought up by regeneration company Sunderland Arc, which had originally planned to develop it with offices and a hotel, to complement its plans for the Vaux brewery site.
After the recession, the hotel scheme had to be abandoned and the land was passed to the Ministry of Justice.
The Labour government drew-up plans for a new Sunderland Justice Centre, to incorporate new magistrates, crown, and civil courts under one roof, but the scheme was put on ice when the Coalition came to power in 2010.
Plenty of plans, but no plans
A vision for the future of the Farringdon Row site is exclusively outlined to the Echo. The £30million scheme will include offices, new apartments and a hotel – and is set to create 200 jobs.
Plans are submitted to Sunderland City Council for the Farringdon Row site.
Proposals from CTP Developments and Sunderland arc are for the first phase of the project and include 105 residential units, a 110-bed hotel and 4,550 square metres of office space.
A £70million crown court complex looks set to replace the planned development. The original scheme has fallen victim to the recession, with developer CTP struggling to raise funding for the project.
City leaders are in negotiations with Her Majesty’s Court Service.
David Walker, chief executive of the arc, says he is determined to see a suitable development built on the site.
Plans have been drawn up for a new court complex, which will include much-needed new magistrates and civil courts as well as Sunderland’s first crown court.
But David Keane, head of operations at Her Majesty’s Courts Service (HMCS), admits the multimillion-pound project has been hit by the economic crisis.
Justice ministers promise a decision within months.
In response to a question from Bridget Phillipson, Junior Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly, says: “The business case for new court facilities in Sunderland is in the process of being examined to establish its priority in an updated court building programme.
“Officials are reviewing all deferred court projects, of which the Sunderland project is one. The review is planned to be completed by February 2012.”
Bridget Phillipson and Julie Elliott call on the Ministry of Justice to come clean about its intentions.
A letter from Justice Minister Helen Grant, says: “We are considering various options that would enable us to increase revenue and raise the investment required to modernise the facilities that HM Courts and Tribunals Service provides for its users. Any new investment proposals, such as the Sunderland scheme, would be part of those wider considerations of the HMCTS estate as a whole”
Bridget Phillipson challenges courts and legal aid minister Shailesh Vara to visit Sunderland after the minister again confirms no decision is pending.