Council Officially Approves New Bid for Reading Prison

Reading Borough Council last night gave its official seal of approval for a new bid to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for the Reading Gaol site.

The preliminary terms of a conditional bid by the Council to transform the empty prison into a beacon of arts, heritage and culture for Reading, were agreed by Councillors in the closed session of last night’s Policy Committee meeting (March 8). The bid will now be submitted by March 15th, in accordance with the period of exclusivity afforded to the Council by the MoJ.

The MoJ’s process for the sale of the historic gaol remains a competitive process. That means the value of the Council’s bid and the conditions of the bid remain commercially confidential at this time.

Last night’s Policy Committee report highlighted both the unique opportunity afforded to the Council to secure the site for the Reading community, in terms of cultural offer and the local economy, and the risks and uncertainties associated with a formal Council bid.

After consideration, Councillors agreed to submit a formal conditional bid to the MoJ to purchase the prison site. If successful in its bid, the Council would seek a private sector partner to undertake the comprehensive regeneration.

The final value of the Council’s bid – which will be funded through capacity available in its capital programme – will be informed by the completion of a detailed development appraisal.

Councillors agreed that should the conditional bid be accepted by the MoJ, the final terms and financial implications would be presented to a future meeting of Policy Committee, once all due diligence processes had been completed.  They also agreed that should the bid be successful, a cross party Reading Goal board would be set up to make recommendations on any decisions required.

Reading Borough Council Leader Jason Brock said:

 “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to deliver a unique culture and heritage hub for Reading. We firmly believe a successful bid by the Council would be a game changer. A catalyst for further investment in Reading, a key driver in our recovery from Covid and the creation of a site of local, regional and national significance in the heart of our town and in our historic Abbey Quarter.

 “It is important to note this remains a conditional bid at this time and that this is just the start of a negotiation with the MoJ.  The decision to press ahead with a formal bid is nevertheless a major milestone. We will submit the community’s bid to the MoJ on March 15th, whilst again thanking the MoJ for the period of exclusivity grated to the Council.” 

Reading Gaol has been empty and unused since December 2013 when it was shut by the MoJ.

Oscar Mortali

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