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Heritage lobby warns of PFI threat to court buildings

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The Private Finance Initiative is threatening many of Britain's most historic court buildings, two major heritage organisations have claimed. SAVE Britain's Heritage and the Institute of Historic Building Preservation (IHBP) have both warned that the procurement method leaves many listed court buildings vacant and at risk of falling into disrepair.

They say that the nationwide trend of amalgamating regional magistrates' courts into new PFI-run courthouses has triggered 'a failure to look after many historically important sites'.

SAVE secretary Adam Wilkinson described the situation as a 'disaster in the making', saying that the Lord Chancellor's Department should rethink the whole procurement method. 'There are a large number of buildings being rendered useless that are now extremely vulnerable, ' he told the AJ.

'There are concerns about the influence of the PFI in many different sites.'

Wilkinson said he was particularly worried about the Grade II*-listed Knutsford Magistrates Courthouse in Cheshire, which has been left empty as part of the process of centralising the local courts in Chester and is now being 'left to rot'.

He also warned that the same problem could beset educational buildings.

IHBP vice-president for policy Mark Strawbridge echoed many of Wilkinson's concerns: 'We are extremely concerned about the commitment to cost benefit approach in this initiative. There seems to be a rush to save cash and not consider the social and cultural implications of losing these buildings.'

Strawbridge highlighted the case of the Northampton Courthouse, which is currently empty following the construction of a PFI replacement nearby. 'It is very difficult to turn this building into anything else so it simply stands empty, ' he said.

And a spokesman for English Heritage agreed the current trend gives cause for concern, as many PFI firms believe that historic buildings cannot be made more efficient by refurbishment and instead 'simply desert them'.

The Lord Chancellor's Department said it has very little influence on the way the courts organise their premises, but insisted that every effort is made to rescue historically significant buildings.

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