Court to join list of derelict buildings
ACOUNCILLOR has slammed the Government over the upcoming closure of Halton Magistrates Court in Runcorn and warned that a ‘brain drain’ of solicitors could follow.
Cllr Dave Thompson said the building’s demise will become the fourth vacant site blighting the area, joining East Lane House, Castle View House and the partially used Grosvenor House in the growing list of empty properties.
He said Runcorn had hosted a court for hundreds of years and its closure ‘makes no sense at all’.
The Halton Lea ward Labour councillor laid into the Ministry Of Justice’s (MOJ) reasoning for going ahead with shutting the site, saying the Government’s own research showed it was among the busiest courts in the North West.
He added that the MOJ’s figures revealed it was ‘very cost effective’, with an outlay of £43 per hearing compared to the national average of £150.
Ninety jobs based at the court will be lost from the town, he warned.
Its closure has led him to conclude that the move was motivated by wanting to keep other courts open.
He said: “I believe they wanted rid of our local court simply to justify proposals for keeping a better utilised court at Warrington and tribunal services at St Helens, beefing up the use of other courts by making Halton residents travel out of the bor- ● ough.
“They claim funds from the public purse will be saved but this is unlikely to happen in my view.
“Government guidance required the MOJ to dispose of its assets within six months of being declared surplus for housing and within three years for all other properties.
“I think there are poor prospects for the empty court building being occupied, costing taxpayers to keep it empty for years to come.
“It is now likely to join East Lane House, Grosvenor House and Castle View becoming another vacant eyesore.
“There has been court in Runcorn for centuries, the loss of the court is likely to have very serious consequences.
“The council will now need to factor in added time and costs for out of borough travel when handling social services cases.
“I am fearful that we might see a brain drain of legal expertise as firms of solicitors normally base themselves close to courts for ease of access.
He added: “A Her Majesty’s Courts And Tribunals Service spokesperson has previously told the Weekly News that closing underused and dilapidated court buildings will allow them to re-invest in the justice system but that’s not what is being offered in Halton.
“Witnesses and people involved with family cases with be travelling further whilst the court is left to go into rack and ruin like the other blocks around East Lane.”
Runcorn Magistrates Court is due for closure. Inset, Cllr Dave Thompson