Like post offices, pubs and village schools, local courthouses are gradually being consigned to the history books. Gloucestershire now has just two and neither are fit for purpose.
At both Cheltenham Magistrates and Gloucester Crown Courts, victims, witnesses and the accused are forced to share the same rooms and facilities; little if any concession is made for children and disabled access is difficult.
Anyone who thinks this can be repaired by a lick of paint is badly misguided. But don’t just take my word, ask the dedicated staff who work there.
The danger is that if we don’t have a plan to replace them we will find local justice being dispensed out of the county.
As Police and Crime Commissioner, I own land on the Waterwells Business Park and I believe building a new courthouse there makes sense because:
- Taxpayers won’t have to buy the land so it will save money.
- It’s next to a park and ride with good public transport links
- Close the M5
- Next to Gloucestershire’s custody facility, resulting in substantial savings in building costs
- Replacing the existing courts would release valuable re-development land in Gloucester and Cheltenham
My office has worked with architects and planners to produce a feasibility study of what it could look like and how it could operate.
I recently had an informal conversation with the Cotswolds MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, who seemed to see merit in the idea, and Gloucester MP Richard Graham who asked me not to go public. I was happy to do so until Gloucester Liberal Democrat Councillor Jeremy Hilton spoke to the media last week.
Mr. Hilton’s view is that any new building should be in the city of Gloucester. But a new courthouse has been on the city council’s agenda for a number of years and a number of potential locations have all been sold for development. If Mr. Hilton can come up with another site, I am happy to support him.
But if people want to start playing politics, it will get us nowhere. The Ministry of Justice will go somewhere else and Gloucestershire will be left behind as usual.