Ministry of Justice chiefs are to launch an urgent appeal after their bid to build a new £300 million superjail near Market Harborough was blocked, it’s emerged today.
The MoJ is to urge an independent planning inspector to overthrow the decision by Harborough District Council’s planning committee last month to stop it building the new 1,700-inmate male prison at Gartree.
Councillors threw out the massive scheme at a tension-packed meeting because the blueprint would drive a horse and carriage through the district council’s Local Plan and Lubenham Parish Council’s Neighbourhood Plan.
And the Ministry’s move has sparked fury among local councillors, parish councils and villagers who have fought tooth and nail for almost a year to stop the high-security jail in its tracks.
Today Harborough MP Neil O’Brien said he was “disappointed” by the MoJ’s actions as he backed the district council’s overwhelming vote to thwart it.
But Mr O’Brien told the Harborough Mail that as a Minister he cannot actively get involved in decision-making over planning applications in his own constituency.
“"In my role as a Minister I have to recuse myself and not get involved in planning decision-making concerning planning applications within my constituency,” the Conservative MP told us.
“But speaking as the Member of Parliament for Harborough I am disappointed by the Ministry of Justice decision to appeal the council’s decision and fully support the council in refusing planning permission."
And veteran district councillor Phil Knowles, who has spearheaded the battle to derail the superjail, told the Mail: “I’m very disappointed with the MoJ – this is highly regrettable.
“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 that 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, told us this morning: “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 Phil King, who leads Harborough council, said today: “I am not surprised this is going to appeal but I am disappointed.
“I understand why the MoJ are acting because they say the national need for new prisons outweighs our local plans.
“They are using the well-established planning system, which has been in place for decades, and appealing.
“But I am disappointed that they have not accepted the decision of our planning committee,” said Cllr King.
“We will now have to wait and see what the outcome is.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson told the Mail this afternoon: “After careful consideration we are appealing the decision to refuse planning permission.
“We will continue to work closely with Harborough District Council and the local community on our proposals.”
You can read our story last month telling you that the controversial superjail had been turned down here: https://www.harboroughmail.co.uk/news/people/campaigners-reactions-after-plans-for-huge-super-prison-near-harborough-were-rejected-3642622