From flats to wedding venues, what happens to Yorkshire's closed courts

THE COURT buildings closed in our region range from attractive listed properties to purpose-built facilities from the 1980s, so it takes a developer with some vision to see how the more functional sites can be given a new lease of life.

Nathan Cantrell and Reality Attree, of Liddy's Solicitors, which has taken on the former Barnsley County Court building
Nathan Cantrell and Reality Attree, of Liddy's Solicitors, which has taken on the former Barnsley County Court building

Old court buildings in Yorkshire and the Humber have been given fresh purpose as flats, banqueting and conference suites and, perhaps most fittingly, offices for a firm of solicitors.

Not all the sites closed across England and Wales were in public ownership and in some cases leaseholds simply reverted back to the property owners sooner than planned.

But throughout the various consultations, much had been made of the potential to sell off the vacated buildings and reinvest the proceeds in modernising the rest of the courts estate.

The sale of HM Courts and Tribunals buildings generated almost £243m between April 2010 and December 2017, with just £1.26m of that total coming from the sale of six buildings closed in our region during the Court Estate Reform Programme or the later Estates Reform Project.

Many of the court buildings remain empty and unsold.

Four properties are being marketed currently by Midlands-based development consultants Thomas Lister, which describes Halifax Magistrates’ Court as a “prestigious conversion opportunity” with potential uses including a hotel. It is seeking offers for Halifax County Court and Wakefield Magistrates’ Court by April 30 and May 4 respectively, while offers made for Doncaster County Court are now under review.

The first site in our region to be sold was Barnsley County Court, which was purchased in 2012 for £169,864. It is now home to a branch of Liddy’s Solicitors, with additional office space available for lease by other businesses. Practice manager Nathan Cantrell said the solicitors’ firm only occupied around a fifth of the “huge” listed building and its old courtrooms remained in place.

“It does still resemble the court,” he said.

The West Yorkshire market town of Dewsbury lost both its county court and magistrates’ court, the latter of which sold for £300,000 - the highest sum for any court site in Yorkshire and the Humber to date.

Private owners John and Sheelagh Robinson turned the county court into 12 one and two-bedroom flats, while the magistrates’ court now hosts weddings under its new guise of the Courts Banqueting and Conference Suites.

Planning permission was granted in March 2017 to turn Pontefract Magistrates’ Court into an antiques market with a cafe, while plans for 16 flats at the former Selby Magistrates’ Court won approval the following month. Meanwhile, Keighley County Court was sold for a second time in 2016 after original buyers Turner Developments failed to secure funding towards a £60,000 refurbishment bill.