The leader of St Edmundsbury Borough Council has proposed using the council’s Public Service Village in Western Way in Bury St Edmunds as a magistrates court.
In a letter to Suffolk’s MPs, Councillor John Griffiths said the council had ‘serious concerns on several fronts’ about the Ministry of Justice’s (MOJ) proposed closure of Bury St Edmunds’ Magistrates’ Court.
He said the council was ‘very surprised’ not to have been asked in advance whether there were any ‘better or cheaper alternatives’ for the court to be based locally.
The letter reads: “Even by the MOJ’s own calculations and benchmarking, residents of West Suffolk will be disproportionately disadvantaged by the proposed closure, compared to national or regional averages. “There also appears to be a lack of understanding of how transport in rural areas works and, not least, because the travel scenarios described in the consultation document assume a starting point in Bury St Edmunds.
He continues: “The consultation also suggests that justifications for the closure are the cost, constraints and under-use of the current building. “However, no mention is made of any attempt having yet been made to find an alternative locally. “Even if we were to accept that there may be issues with the existing building, we are very surprised that we were not asked in advance of the consultation whether we could offer better and cheaper alternatives.”
Councillor Griffiths suggests the option of moving the magistrates’ court to the Public Service Village in Western Way, which includes West Suffolk House.
“In terms of court hearings themselves, we would be very well placed to include in that scheme, with government support, flexible facilities which can be used for other civic (or even commercial) activities when not required buy the MOJ, including Coroner’s inquests.
“New office facilities for staff would also be available, as well as space for any specialist court facilities (and video links to courts elsewhere).
He said the Public Service Village is already home to adult and children’s services and in the future hopes to share it with other public services.
“So, clearly there does exist a potentially viable alternative for maintaining access to the courts in Bury st Edmunds, and improving the support of vulnerable people, and we would be happy to discuss this with the MOJ at the earliest opportunity.”