Blackpool and Preston Magistrates' Courts closed due to RAAC: where will cases be heard and when are they likely to reopen

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Confusion heightens over where magistrates cases from both Blackpool and Preston will be heard as both courts remain closed for the forseeable.

Blackpool Magistrates' Court closed suddenly on Wednesday (November 2) due to the discovery of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) – a lighter and less durable form of concrete, used until the mid-1990s.

The closure has thrown Lancashire’s legal system into turmoil as the court was dealing with cases from Preston Magistrates’ Court after it was also ordered to close due to the same building safety fears in September.

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RAAC previously found in the Preston Magistrate Court’s roof deteriorated and has meant the site could be closed for up to four months.

Left: Preston Magistrate's Court. Right: Blackpool Magistrate's Court.Left: Preston Magistrate's Court. Right: Blackpool Magistrate's Court.
Left: Preston Magistrate's Court. Right: Blackpool Magistrate's Court.

A similar fate has now befallen Blackpool Magistrates' Court on Chapel Street, which was built 50 years ago and houses six magistrates’ courts and two county court rooms.

First closing on Wednesday, a notice on the GOV.UK’s Blackpool Magistrates’ Court page now reads: “We have temporarily closed this site as a safety measure due to the discovery of RAAC.

"For urgent queries - magistrates court cases email [email protected] for county court cases [email protected].”

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In a statement released late on Wednesday, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “RAAC remains rare across the court estate, with only ten sites out of a total 350 identified as currently containing this material.

“As part of our surveying work, we have taken the precautionary step of temporarily closing Blackpool County Court and Blackpool Magistrates’ Court. Cases will be heard remotely or at alternative sites to minimise disruption wherever possible.”

Whilst future family and civil cases from Blackpool and Preston will be heard remotely or at alternative sites – the location of which has not yet been confirmed – , all magistrates’ court hearings in Blackpool for the remainder of this week have been cancelled except for overnight remand hearings, which will be listed at Preston Crown Court.

Ministry of Justice hopes however that the necessary preventative work, including poles and netting, can be completed within weeks rather than months, meaning that Blackpool Magisrates could reopen by the New Year.

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An operations director told staff: “The safety of our staff, judges and court users is our utmost priority and the site will remain closed until work has been completed to ensure the site is safe.”

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The RAAC at Blackpool had been identified as part of a review of 350 court buildings constructed between 1960 and 1990 across England and Wales but further investigations this week resulted in the material being judged “defective”.

The Health and Safety Executive says RAAC is now beyond its lifespan and may “collapse with little or no notice”.

A Lancashire criminal court capacity update posted by the Criminal Bar Association said: "I’m writing to let you know that, in line with expert advice from structural engineers, we’ve taken immediate action to temporarily close both Blackpool County Court and Blackpool Magistrates’ and Civil Court.

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"As part of our programme of ongoing monitoring, RAAC previously identified as present on the site was found to be defective.”

Criminal Bar Association chair Tana Adkin KC commented: “Court closures do put pressure on the criminal justice system and those working within it.

"We hope that the government investment promised will address these problems and improve the court estate.”

As well as the Chapel Street court in Blackpool, a new three-storey court building is planned to be built on the old hospital site on the corner of Devonshire Road and Talbot Road which would combine the existing magistrates’, civil and family courts into one building.

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Last year, the Ministry of Justice pledged £40m to relocate the courts from the Blackpool Central site and when asked if this proposal increased the likelihood of the Chapel Street court not reopening at all, no response was received.