Day marks 10th year since Reading Prison inmates left

The last prisoners at Reading Gaol, which stands in The Forbury in the town centre, were moved out in November 22, 2013.

Therefore today (Wednesday, November 22) marks 10 years since the inmates left.

In that time, it has been predicted that ‘millions’ have been spent by the Ministry of Justice on keeping the Prison ‘mothballed’.

The Ministry of Justice is hoping to sell the Prison to the highest bidder in a process that has lasted years, with a winning developer pulling out of the sale three years ago in November 2020.

Meanwhile, the government has spent considerable sums on upkeep and security of the Prison.

Matt Rodda, the Labour MP for Reading East, has been campaigning for the Prison to be turned over to community use as a performing and arts space.

He has predicted that leaving the prison empty has cost taxpayers millions of pounds.

Mr Rodda said: “I am calling on the Government to rethink its approach after failing to sell Reading Gaol for 10 years.

“To make matters worse, the Government may have wasted about £3 million moth balling the gaol.

“The lengthy delay and the high cost to the Government show that a new approach is needed.

“I am calling on Ministers to work with me, Reading Borough Council, the local arts community and other community groups to save Reading Gaol and to help turn it into an àrts and heritage hub.”

A report in The Sun from April 2019 states that the government spent £1.25 million on security and maintenance costs for the prison since its closure, which amounted to £24,000 per month.

If those figures are correct, a further £1.296 million has been spent on the Prison from April 2019 to now, bringing the potential total spent to £2.546 million.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The sale of the former Reading Prison is progressing and all matters relating to it are commercially sensitive and confidential.”

The Local Democracy Reporting Service has asked the Ministry of Justice to give its figures for the total amount of money spent since the prison was vacated.

In a BBC Radio Berkshire interview, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was grilled on the dormant nature of the prison by presenter Andrew Peach in September.

At the time, PM Sunak, the Conservative MP for Richmond, replied that the sale procedure for the Prison is progressing and that it would be inappropriate to comment further.

READ MORE: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak dodges question over future of Reading Prison amid sale

He added that any sale and development project would require planning permission from Reading Borough Council.

The prospect of the Prison being turned over to performance, arts and community use has proliferated since it was opened up for an Artangel exhibition in 2016.

Reading Gaol’s most famous inmate was imprisoned there in the 1890s. In 2021, famous street artist Banksy painted a mural on the outer wall of the Prison.

Reading Chronicle | Town Centre