Dear Editor, We need shed no tears over the abandonment of the proposed new magistrates’ courts building in Eastside.
Indeed, let us hope that it is abandoned, rather than merely delayed. There are two good reasons why the project was misconceived.
Firstly, it is unnecessary.
Her Majesty’s Courts Service came into being in 2005 and brought together the administration of the magistrates’ courts, the crown courts, and the county courts within one organisation.
During my time as chairman of Stourbridge and Halesowen Magistrates, I argued for the need for a review of the locations of good court buildings, and the disposition of workloads between them.
In the case of Halesowen there are the villages of Hunnington and Romsley, only a mile or so to the south, and yet any work arising from there goes to Redditch, several miles away.
Similarly to the west any work arising in Hagley, or Clent goes to Kidderminster, again further away. And work arising in Old Hill or Cradley Heath goes to Warley court.
Yet Halesowen courthouse is a modern building which is substantially under utilised. There is clearly a need for a review across the whole of the West Midlands of how the work should be distributed.
Such a review should start with what work should go to the (suitably, and appropriately modernised) Victoria Law Courts, and then what can be taken in the suburban courts.
The management of HMCS have consistently failed to undertake such a review.
Secondly the project was to be funded by the now notorious Private Finance Initiative.
The PFI was conceived by the Conservative government in the 1980s. It was presented, by the politicians, as getting something for nothing.
That is a total fallacy. NHS experience shows that we get very expensive, and often poorly designed, hospitals while perfectly good buildings (which, no doubt, need modernising) are knocked down. This is what happened at Coventry, and is perhaps going to happen to our old Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
Reverting to the courts situation we have the Victoria Law Courts which is a magnificent Grade I listed building. In this case they can’t just knock it down.
So what are HMCS’s plans for it?
The truth about the PFI is that finance companies, property companies and construction companies make a killing, while we taxpayers pay through the nose.
It was perhaps the first major mistake of the New Labour government that they did not announce the demise of the PFI.
For them, and for us, it has proved to be a costly mistake.
Anthony N Cook