Council lobbies MoJ on prison

Wed 19 August 2015, 10:07 am

Inertia on the future of the Reading Prison site has provoked trenchant criticism from Reading Borough Council. Deputy leader, Councillor Tony Page, has written twice to the secretary of state for justice, Michael Gove MP, to record his councilís views on the absence of a timeframe for disposal of the site, but has yet to receive a response.

The Ministry of Justice announced closure on 4 September 2013 and the prison shut in early 2014. “We hoped that rapid decommissioning would be followed by swift development,” said Page. “Instead, the inaction is disgraceful – the government spends at least £25,000 per month on mothballing the buildings.”

The council has secured Heritage Lottery Funding of around £2 million to invest in the historic Abbey Quarter, to which it will contribute a further million.

“My real concern is that as any decision on the prison drags on, opportunities will be lost for a scheme to dovetail in development with the wider Abbey Quarter site. Through this scheme, we will make good and safe the Abbey Ruins, Forbury Gardens – and would like to include the prison,” said Page, adding that the authority has no blueprint for development of the prison site.

“As a listed building on consecrated ground, a scheduled ancient monument, planning constraints are enormous and it will be it will be very difficult to develop. ­But the potential for bringing in the prison site to the wider Abbey Quarter site is substantial and we want to see it exploited.”

The council’s draft outline development framework, published in February 2014, was adopted as supplementary planning guidance in March 2015.

“We have published the most detailed framework for any of the prisons that have been closed,” Page said. “We’re up for the challenge; we’ve given examples of possible future uses – and we’re continuing to lobby ministers and officials at every opportunity.”

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