Fenland Council describes closure of Wisbech Courthouse as “flawed” as consultation ends

FENLAND District Council has today described the Government’s proposal to close Wisbech Magistrates Court and transfer its work to Peterborough as “flawed” and urged it to think again.

In its formal response to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation document, the council said the proposal had failed to consider fully all the options. The consultation period ended yesterday (Wednesday).

The council was especially critical of the document’s assessment of the time that it would take Fenland residents to get to Peterborough, which it described as “superficial and misleading” and said that the additional travel would particularly affect older people.

The council said: “Our analysis is that only those people living in Wisbech, March and Chatteris are able to access Peterborough within an hour by public transport.

“Also, anyone outside these towns would not arrive by 9am, the time the courts open, and would not be able to return home when the courts close at 5pm. In fact, many would need to catch a bus much earlier.”

More than a third - 35.6 per cent - of the total Fenland population would be unable to get to Peterborough within 60 minutes by public transport, it said.

Anyone travelling by bus from Manea, for example, would face a journey of more than two hours; they wouldn’t be able to get to Peterborough before 11am and would have to leave by 2pm.

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It added: “The population of Fenland is disproportionately elderly and the additional travel will therefore have a disproportionate impact.”

The council also doubted whether the closure would save as much money as had been suggested because the consultation document failed to consider that the building had a dual use as a police station: “We question what level of savings could actually be realised without closure of the police station.”

It argued that the proposals had been constrained by existing administrative boundaries and suggested that more work could be taken on in Wisbech.

It pointed out that for people in some parts of Norfolk and East Cambridgeshire, Wisbech was more accessible than King’s Lynn, Ely or Cambridge.

The court building had been judged “underused and inadequate” but the council said there were “considerable questions about its alleged unsuitability”.

The consultation had identified only one aspect of the court – one relating to the Disability Discrimination Act - that could not be improved to meet standards, the council said, adding: “We would question whether this justifies the closure of the court when balanced with the far greater difficulties presented to those with a disability in reaching Peterborough.”

Councillor Alan Melton, Leader of Fenland District Council, described the proposed closure as “very short-sighted”, particularly when about 11,000 new homes were coming to the district.

He said: “We need the facilities for local justice. The public would be concerned about the speed and ease of justice being administered.”

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