ONE of Cheshire's oldest courthouses is to be saved from closure.
The future of the 18th century Sessions House at Knutsford has been in doubt for more than a decade amid concerns over its structural safety and the small number of cases it deals with.
The death knell was sounded last year when the Lord Chancellor's department recommended closing the 185-year-old building and transferring cases to Chester.
But in an extraordinary U-turn, the Court Service yesterday announced the court will stay open - and undergo a refurbishment to bring it up to modern standards.
The news is bound to delight local residents who joined civic leaders, lawyers and magistrates in a long-running campaign to save the Grade II listed courthouse.
One of the campaign leaders was the chairman of Cheshire County Council, Knutsford councillor Bert Grange. He wrote at least 10 letters to the Government arguing the case for the court to stay.
He said: "This is marvellous news. For 500 years there has been a courthouse in Knutsford and we have always maintained the people of east Cheshire would lose out if cases were moved to Chester.
"It was ludicrous to recommend closure of such an important facility when all the building ever needed was refurbishing. I am delighted justice is going to be kept local, where it belongs."
The decision not to close the court follows an inquiry by the Court Service.
It considered the volume of cases being dealt with, the distance users may have to travel to an alternative court and the physical condition of the courthouse.
The Lord Chancellor's department had claimed the building would need £5m to bring it up to modern standards.
But the Court Service says its planned investment of less than £1m is enough. The court will close soon and is expected to reopen in the autumn.
The stone-fronted building was built in 1817 as part of a prison complex. The main courtroom, with its elaborate decorative plaster work, was last repainted 25 years ago.
Last year, a trial was held up when a plasterwork rose fell from the ceiling, narrowly missing two defendants.