Gauntlet thrown down to Dominic Raab as the growing battle to block a £300 million superjail near Harborough hots up

Deputy Prime Minister is being urged to come and meet angry local councillors and residents at the site for the proposed 1,700-inmate male prison

The site of the proposed superjail
The site of the proposed superjail

The gauntlet has been thrown down to Justice Secretary Dominic Raab as the growing battle to block a £300 million superjail at Gartree hots up.

The Deputy Prime Minister is being urged to come and meet angry local councillors and residents at the site for the proposed 1,700-inmate male prison near Market Harborough.

Mr Raab, who heads up the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), is being invited to head to south Leicestershire to talk to local people battling the high-security jail face to face.

Cllr Phil Knowles, one of the campaign leaders fighting the massive scheme, has now written to the Minister in a bid to set up the get-together.

The Harborough district councillor has told Mr Raab: “The MoJ has taken the decision to appeal the planning determination by Harborough District Council, an application to build a new super prison adjacent to the existing Gartree Prison.

“My question to you is simple.

“How much do you really know about the site and, more importantly, how much do you know about the negative impact this build will have on our wider community here in rural south Leicestershire?

“Mr Raab, I want to repeat an invitation to you to come here to Market Harborough, please meet with me and other campaigners and see this site for yourself,” says the council’s Liberal Democrat leader.

“We are confident of the reasons not to build.

“If you are confident of your arguments please take up my invitation and come and talk with us face to face.

“Time is short and I appreciate that your diary is under constant pressure but the decisions of your department to pursue this will impact on so many.

“Please come, talk with us, listen to us and perhaps consider even withdrawing the appeal completely and accepting the decision of the planning committee.”

Cllr Knowles told us today: “This is the second time I’ve asked Dominic Raab to head north to meet us all here – and I’m still waiting for an answer.

“If he is so convinced of his case for building a huge new jail here right beside the major prison we’ve already got at Gartree then fine – come and talk to us.

“What’s he got to lose?

“This is democracy at work,” said Cllr Knowles.

“We are equally convinced that this is entirely the wrong place to build the new jail.

“Gartree is hard to get to and access is very poor for a start.

“Our narrow country roads would be totally swamped if we suddenly had hundreds of staff and hundreds of inmates’ families and friends driving in and out of both prisons.

“Even officers who used to work at Gartree have told me it would be a disaster if this goes ahead,” said the Great Bowden and Arden ward councillor.

“I’ll also be addressing the planning appeal when it is held in October because we have to win this battle.

“And I’d love Mr Raab to travel here to see us before then so we can persuade him to think again and build his superjail in a much more suitable part of the country.”

Asked if Mr Raab will accept Cllr Knowles’s invitation to come to Gartree, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson replied:

“After careful consideration the Ministry of Justice has submitted an appeal against the decision regarding the new prison in Gartree.

“We will continue to work closely with Harborough District Council and the local community on our proposals.”

Meanwhile, a public inquiry into the superjail blueprint will be staged by the Planning Inspectorate in Market Harborough this autumn.

The MoJ has launched the appeal after Harborough District Council’s planning committee unanimously turned down the controversial initiative in April.

The pivotal hearing will be held at the council’s offices at the Symington Building on Adam and Eve Street in Market Harborough.

It will start on Tuesday October 4 and continue on October 5, 6, 7 and 10.