Council bid to buy Haddington Sheriff Court

Haddington courthouse. Picture: Gordon Fraser
Haddington courthouse. Picture: Gordon Fraser
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A LANDMARK court building in the Lothians is set for a new lease of life after the local council launched a bid to ­purchase it.

Haddington Sheriff Court was earmarked for permanent closure in January as part of a £3 million money-saving ­exercise implemented by the Scottish Court Service.

Officials at East Lothian Council have launched a bid to preserve the 19th century courthouse for public use by purchasing it from the SCS.

Residents are hopeful it could then be redeveloped into an area community hub.

Thirteen courts across ­Scotland have already shut their doors, with another three set to follow in 2015.

From the end of January, all cases that would have been heard in Haddington will be transferred to Edinburgh ­Sheriff Court – despite fears the Capital’s courts are already overloaded.

Christine Dora, an executive assistant with East Lothian Council, said the town would be “devastated” by the closure.

“The council has been very much against the closure,” she added. “The changes fail to take into account the growing 
population of East Lothian, and the council believes the loss of the court will have a detrimental economic effect on ­Haddington town centre.”

Analysts estimate the court’s closure will directly cost the council around £44,000 per year in expenses.

But Ms Dora said the prospect of taking on the site for public use also ­presented “positive ­potential” for the town. Margaret Ingle, vice chair of Haddington ­Community ­Council, said residents stand to benefit if the ­building is used as a new community space.

“It’s such a prominent building and no-one wants to see it go,” she said. “The council is quite right to want it to continue to be used, but it will be interesting to see how it’s developed.

“It would be great if it could be turned into something for public use.”

In both Angus and neighbouring Fife, residents have formed action groups to bring the recently closed Arbroath and Cupar Sheriff Courts back into community ownership.

A spokesman for East Lothian Council said the potential cost of the transaction has yet to be negotiated. But a spokesman for the SCS said plans were already in place to continue using parts of the building after January.

He said: “The Scottish Court ­Service has been liaising with East Lothian Council on the future of Haddington Sheriff Court.”

“This includes the provision of video conference facilities to that court from Haddington allowing evidence of vulnerable witnesses to be given by remote link when appropriate.”

He added that videolink infrastructure would also be put into place at regional police desks across East Lothian in a bid to “significantly” reduce the number of police officers required to abandon frontline duties to travel to Edinburgh to testify in court.

nash.riggins@edinburghnews.com