Campaigners are firing up to go back into battle to stop a new £300 million ‘superjail’ being built near Market Harborough after the Ministry of Justice launched an appeal.
District councillors, parish councils and residents are vowing to redouble their efforts to block the 1,700-inmate male prison going ahead at Gartree.
They are springing back into action as the MoJ bids to overturn a unanimous decision by Harborough District Council’s planning committee last month to reject the massive scheme, as we reported last Wednesday (May 18).
The highly-controversial case will now be heard by an independent planning inspector over the next few months – possibly in August.
Cllr Paul Bremner, the district ward councillor for Lubenham and Gartree, told the Harborough Mail today: “The MoJ are trying to rush the appeal through so that they can get on with the build of this proposed new prison.
“But they will have to convince the planning inspector that they should overturn the unanimous decision of our planning committee to refuse this because it totally goes against our Local Plan.
“If you ask me, this is 50/50 – it’s hanging in the balance and it could go either way.
“We will have to formulate a plan of public engagement now to get local people involved on our side.
“And then we’ll have to look at how to present ourselves and our arguments at the hearing.
“But the move to build this huge jail at Gartree makes no sense,” said Cllr Bremner.
“The new jail should be built in a town or city with much better road and rail links.”
This afternoon Cllr Adele Rogers, chairman of Foxton Parish Council, told us: “It’s a real disappointment that the Ministry is appealing – but we were expecting it.
“Our council is now looking at resurrecting our action plan and mapping out the way forward.
“We might even employ our own barrister to sit at the appeal hearing,” said Cllr Rogers.
“It would create a very dangerous precedent if Harborough council’s Local Plan is just ripped up and this jail is built.
“What would that mean for councils’ Local Plans all over the country?
“We are going to be pulling out all the stops to stop this.”
Veteran district councillor Phil Knowles, who has led the fight to derail the superjail, said: “The MoJ should accept the democratic decision made by our planning committee only a few weeks ago – and listen to local people.
“But they appear to be hellbent on bulldozing this through and building this enormous jail nobody wants here,” declared Cllr Knowles, who leads the Liberal Democrats on Harborough council.
“This prison would have an immense negative impact on the whole area surrounding Gartree.
“The impact on the local environment, on traffic, on our quiet country roads would be huge.
“And we have already got a high-security prison at Gartree, which is also set to be expanded,” insisted Cllr Knowles.
“Our planning committee’s vote to kick this out was unanimous.
“The MoJ should back off now.
“There’s 101 reasons to build this prison in another part of the country.
“But the new battle to stop this jail being built at Gartree starts here, it starts right now.
“I’m sure the planning inspector will hold a formal public hearing into this as they decide what to do,” said Cllr Knowles.
“And we will be turning out in force to tell the inspector why this new prison should never be built at Gartree.”
Cllr Diana Cook, chairman of Lubenham Parish Council, said: “I am surprised how quickly the MoJ has decided to appeal.
“Gartree is the wrong place for this new jail, it’s as simple as that.
“The MoJ are making spurious comments about the economic value to the area – but it just doesn’t stack up.
“I’m absolutely shocked by the speed with which the Ministry has acted.
“It feels as if they are trying to ride roughshod over us,” said Cllr Cook.
“This is ludicrous, it would have a massive impact on Lubenham as well as on other villages and communities here in Harborough.
“So we will fight it for all we’re worth.”
Cllr Jonathan Bateman, Harborough District Councils Cabinet lead for planning, said: “We received, on May 17 2022, a pre-notification on behalf of the Ministry of Justice of its intention to submit an appeal against its refusal of planning permission for a new prison at Gartree. The notification states the appeal is likely to be submitted on May 31 2022.
“The council will participate in the appeal which is expected to be decided later this year by a Government Planning Inspector,” said Cllr Bateman.
“Once we know more, we will confirm how the public can make representations.”
Cllr Phil King, who leads Harborough council, said today: “I understand why the MoJ are acting because they say the national need for new prisons outweighs our local plans.
“But I am disappointed that they have not accepted the decision of our planning committee,” said Cllr King.
Robin Seaton, deputy director of the prison and probation service, says in a letter delivered to local residents: “The MoJ are committed to providing more safe, secure, modern and decent prison places and believes the proposed scheme will help to fulfil the national demand for Category B prison places.
“The new prison will also provide significant local benefits, including millions brought to the local economy during construction and an annual economic boost of approximately £40 million once the prison is built,” says Mr Seaton.
“With that in mind, we will shortly submit to the Planning Inspectorate an appeal against the planning decision.”