MPs and councillors have been appealing for news about the timeline of stalled refurbishment work at Sunderland Magistrates Court.
Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott, Houghton and Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson and Coun Niall Hodson have been pressuring Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service to provide a clear timeline for the work, which was first proposed in 2009.
Coun Hodson, whose ward of Millfield contains the site on which the work was planned to take place, said: “I would like to see some really concrete assurances from the Government, and indeed a firmer timescale as to the development of the site”.
The work was originally planned to refurbish and expand the buildings at Sunderland Magistrates Court, upgrading it to become a crown court and allowing the services currently hosted at both the existing building and Sunderland County Court to be merged into one complex. Following the planning, land was bought on which the new buildings were to be constructed, however after this, work stalled and questions began to be raised regarding the project’s funding.
The latest calls for updates come just over a year after a similar campaign from the same figures led to questions regarding the status of the work to be raised in Parliament by Lord John Shipley. In response to Lord Shipley’s question, Minister of State Lord Faulks said: “No decisions have been taken regarding the court estate in Sunderland”.
However, in response to Julie Elliott, MPs written request for a timeline for the work on 8 November 2017, current Minister for State, Dominic Raab MP, stated: “HM Courts & Tribunals Service recognises the need for refurbishment of Sunderland Magistrates’ Court. We are committed to maintaining and improving the building. Work is already planned to address safety, security and accessibility concerns.”
HMCTS declined to comment further upon the refurbishment when approached.
Eight years on from the original proposal, local officials remain resolute in their attempts to get answers from the Government about the status of the work. Coun Iain Kay, also Millfield ward stated: “We have been told for many years now that a new courts complex for the city is a top priority for the MoJ (Ministry of Justice), but funds seem to be elusive.”
Coun Hodson added: “We have been waiting a long time for development on this site, a key location in the city centre, and it is more urgent now than ever.”
He summarised the issue by saying: “The people of Sunderland have been waiting long enough.”