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20.11.19

Reading Borough Council announces bid to buy disused prison building

Reading Borough Council has announced it will make a bid to buy Reading Prison, following a public petition to save the Grade-II listed building and open the prison up as an arts space.

Councillor Jason Brock, council leader for Reading Borough Council, announced the authority will make the bid for the prison in Reading, which is being sold by the Ministry of Justice, after discussions during a private Policy Committee meeting.

The Ministry of Justice has said the site will be sold to the highest bidder.

Reading Borough Council’s bid is conditional, reliant on it being able to secure the necessary funds ahead of the offer.

Cllr Brock said: "Following discussion in the closed session of tonight’s Policy Committee meeting, the council can now confirm that it intends to submit a bid to purchase the Reading Prison site.

"The disposal of the gaol site represents a once in a generation opportunity and the Council’s purchase would be the only certain mechanism to secure public access to the site and secure a cultural offer for Reading.

"The full details of the bid must remain confidential given the commercial and competitive nature of the bidding process, however the council’s bid would be conditional on securing significant external public funds in order to manage the risk of taking ownership of this historic property."

Previously, Cllr Tony Page, the lead councillor for planning, has said a bid would come from the council, Theatre and Arts Reading (TAR) or both, explaining: "There will be a bid going in that seeks to protect the longer term interests of the prison in terms of promoting the maximum public access and raising its profile nationally and internationally."

In 2017, the head of TAR Melvin Benn predicted that the prison could cost £20 million to buy and convert. TAR wants to buy the listed Gaol building and convert it into a theatre and arts hub.

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