Reading Prison: MP asks for more time for council bid

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Reading Prison was closed in November 2013

An MP has asked the government for more time for the preparation of a community bid to buy Reading Prison.

In December, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) gave Reading Borough Council three months to develop its business case to buy the jail, where Oscar Wilde was held.

Reading East MP Matt Rodda said he had written to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland asking for an extension.

The MoJ said it had not yet received the letter.

Reading Borough Council is expected to discuss the jail - which it hopes will become an arts and cultural centre - with its partners on Friday.

In a letter to Mr Buckland, and seen by the BBC, Mr Rodda said: "A significant amount of work is underway to develop a bid, however it is clear that this will take longer to complete than the initial period of three months offered by the Ministry of Justice last year."

He said additional time was needed to develop a detailed business plan, specific proposals about the use of the site and further details about involvement of arts and community organisations, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

The MoJ said it would address the matter once the letter had been received by Mr Buckland.

Image source, Getty Images/Morley von Sternberg
Image caption,
The prison was immortalised by Oscar Wilde's poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol

The MoJ's offer for a period of exclusivity came after the sale of the prison to developer Artisan Real Estate fell through, and a campaign backed by Hollywood stars Sir Kenneth Branagh and Natalie Dormer, calling for the jail to become a cultural and arts centre.

A previous bid by Reading Borough Council was rejected last year.

The Grade II listed building housed Wilde between 1895 and 1897 when he was convicted of gross indecency after after his affair with Lord Alfred Douglas was exposed.

After his release, he composed The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which was inspired by his time as a prisoner and reflected the brutality of the Victorian prison system.

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