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A fair price? Sale of five historic courthouses closed by government raises less than £1m

PUBLISHED: 06:00 25 February 2018 | UPDATED: 14:31 25 February 2018

The former Wisbech Magistrates' Court. Picture: BRIAN PURDY/ARCHANT ARCHIVE

The former Wisbech Magistrates' Court. Picture: BRIAN PURDY/ARCHANT ARCHIVE

Archant

Less than £1m was raised from the sale of five historic court buildings which have been closed by the government - leading to questions as to whether they were sold for enough.

Since 2010 a number of courts in Norfolk and Suffolk have been shut, despite campaigns by communities to keep them open.

That has left Norwich, King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth as the only towns in Norfolk with magistrates’ courts, with Suffolk’s only magistrates’ court being in Ipswich.

The figures showed that Swaffham and Thetford magistrates’ courts, both sold in 2013/14, brought in £155,000 and £231,550 respectively.

Wisbech Magistrates’ Court was also sold in that year for £151,350, with North West Cambridgeshire MP Steve Barclay saying at the time: “I cannot see how this decision – to give up control of the prime redevelopment opportunity in Wisbech for £150,000 – is value for money.”

Thetford Magistrates' Court before its closure. Picture: SONYA DUNCAN/ARCHANT ARCHIVEThetford Magistrates' Court before its closure. Picture: SONYA DUNCAN/ARCHANT ARCHIVE

Mildenhall Magistrates’ Court brought in £328,000 in 2011/12 but Ely Magistrates’ Court was the cheapest of the lot - it was sold for the princely sum of just £1 following lengthy negotiations for the City of Ely Council to take over the 19th century building after it had been dormant for three years.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman pledged that: “Where physical courts are to close, every penny raised will be put back into funding changes which will make justice easier to access for all at the same time as offering protections for the most vulnerable.”

However Swaffham mayor Jill Skinner, who served as a magistrate for 26 years, said of the £155,000 made from Swaffham: “I’m not an estate agent but I think that amount seem incredibly cheap.

“It’s a really big place and it was purpose-built.

The magistrates' court in Swaffham before it closed. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARYThe magistrates' court in Swaffham before it closed. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

“When I first joined as a magistrate, it was mostly local justice but at the moment, I feel it’s going to be centralised because of the money situation.

“Do I think it’s better? No of course I don’t - justice seemed to be better when it was local but that’s the system and we have to go with it.”

Parliamentary under-secretary of state for justice and South East Cambridgeshire MP Lucy Frazer revealed the sales figures in answer to a parliamentary question from shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon.

The Ministry of Justice spokesman added: “This government is investing over £1bn to reform and modernise the justice system – making it more convenient, easier to use and providing better value for the taxpayer.

Mildenhall Magistrates' Court. Picture: KEITH MINDHAM/ARCHANT LIBRARYMildenhall Magistrates' Court. Picture: KEITH MINDHAM/ARCHANT LIBRARY

“As we increase the use of digital services, it makes sense to consider the wider role and need for court buildings and assess whether some are still necessary to provide effective access to justice.”

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