The Wokingham Paper

Politician says economic crisis calls for gaol decision to be reversed

AN MP has warned that the economic recession facing the hospitality sector should be reason enough for the Prisons Minister to cancel the sale of Reading Gaol to a private bidder.

Last month, it was confirmed that the community plan to convert the former prison into a locally-owned arts centre was rejected in favour of a commercial developer.

And Reading East MP, Matt Rodda has called for Prisons Minister, Lucy Frazer to change her decision.

Mr Rodda was heavily involved in the campaign to protect the Reading goal from development, and was joined by his Reading West counterpart – and political opposite – Alok Sharma in a bid to save the site.

Mr Rodda wrote to Ms Frazer, stating: “It is now clear that the country, and the world as a whole, faces a challenging economic situation, with most economists predicting that the coronavirus pandemic will cause a recession, with some going further and suggesting that this could be deeper and more damaging than other recent economic problems.

“A recession would have a damaging impact across most sectors of the British economy, although it is expected to hit the hospitality sector particularly hard, making development projects which are based on hotel building or luxury accommodation particularly vulnerable.

“The current preferred bidder could face significant difficulties paying for the site and financing the proposed development, which could leave the Department unable to sell the site, or struggling to complete the sale.

“Even if a bidder bought the site, any development could be difficult to finance and build.”

Mr Rodda then called for Ms Frazer to change her decision for the site, and reconsider an alternative use.

Mr Rodda said: “I would be happy to work with you and your Department, Alok Sharma and Reading Borough Council, together with the arts and heritage community, to explore alternative arts and heritage uses for the gaol site which secure its future and help the Department fulfil its aim of selling the site.”

The Reading Gaol is a Grade II listed building and was the prison where Oscar Wilde was incarcerated.

Mr Rodda added: “It is also the only prison to sit on a scheduled ancient monument, as it was built on the site of Reading Abbey, the burial place of King Henry I, whose tomb is believed to be buried under the prison wall or car park.”

The Save Reading Gaol campaign had previously attracted support with an 8,000 signature petition and a 1,000 person demonstration.

It has also been supported by the Oscar Wilde Society, the actor Stephen Fry and the Irish Government — due to Oscar Wilde’s links to Ireland.

For more information about the campaigns, visit: readinggaolhug.uk

Or search @SaveReadingGaol on Facebook.

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