Under-fire £300 million 'superjail' near Harborough has been put on hold - for now

The huge 1,700-inmate prison at Gartree has triggered a firestorm of criticism from local people and parish councils

By Red Williams
Wednesday, 16th February 2022, 9:00 am
The site of the proposed 'superjail'
The site of the proposed 'superjail'

An under-fire Government scheme to build a new £300 million “superjail” near Market Harborough is being put on the backburner for now.

The huge Ministry of Justice (MoJ) blueprint to put up the 1,700-inmate male prison at Gartree has triggered a firestorm of criticism from outraged local people and parish councils.

But MoJ chiefs are now asking Harborough District Council, the local planning authority, to delay determining and deciding their application to build the new high-security jail.

The Ministry is also “pausing” its ambitious multi-million pound initiative to expand and extend the existing prison at Gartree to hold another 250 prisoners.

The MoJ said it’s acting in a bid to “reconnect” with the very sceptical local community.

Robin Seaton, deputy director at the MoJ in charge of new prisons, has now written to people living in and around Gartree setting out their revised new approach.

“I recognise the proposals are significant, complex and there is considerable community interest.

“In response, before the planning application is determined I want to reconnect with the community to provide clarity and information about the proposed scheme,” says Mr Seaton.

“So I have time to engage meaningfully, I have asked Harborough District Council to delay determining our new prison proposals.

“I have also paused our application for the houseblock at the current HMP Gartree to focus on the proposed new prison.”

An MoJ spokeswoman today told the Harborough Mail: “We are continuing to work closely with people in Market Harborough and the surrounding area on our proposed plans which will create hundreds of jobs and bolster the local economy.

“We have already made a number of changes to minimise the impact on roads and protect wildlife on site and will hold a number of community drop-ins over the coming weeks so we can continue these important conversations with members of the public.”

She said their outline planning application to build the vast new penal establishment is now set to go before Harborough council’s planning committee in April.

The MoJ’s surprise move is being given a “cautious welcome” by councillors vowing to fight the highly-contentious twin prison project.

Cllr Diana Cook, chairman of Lubenham Parish Council, told the Mail:

“This is a very unexpected move.

“It can only be attributed to the strength of opinion from local people who have expressed their concerns to Harborough District Council planners.

“There are some extremely well-reasoned objections and it is clear that respondents have thought this proposal through before sending their comments,” said Cllr Cook.

“They must be applauded for this.

“I urge them to take full advantage of the consultation events being proposed so they can understand the full impact of this significant application and continue to send their comments to the council who will determine this application.”

Cllr Phil Knowles, who leads the Liberal Democrats on Harborough council, told the Mail: “I would give this new development a very cautious welcome.

“I must say that I didn’t see it coming.

“This gives us more time to underline our firm belief and total conviction that this superjail scheme is in the wrong place.

“There’s no way in the world that it should go ahead here at Gartree for all sorts of practical and moral reasons,” declared Cllr Knowles, who represents nearby Great Bowden.

“I’m very clear about this.

“The Ministry of Justice should take these proposals off the table now.

“There are far too many negatives.

“Our opposition to it has got to be loud and strong.

“And I’m appealing to local people to go on objecting to the planned superjail to both the MoJ and Harborough council in the strongest possible terms.”

The proposed new green eco jail would create up to 700 jobs and plough about £75 million into the local economy if it gets off the ground.

But furious Great Bowden Parish Council is now also backing fellow parish authorities at Lubenham, Foxton and Gumley as the battle to block the controversial prison picks up pace.

The MoJ is now gearing up to stage three new community drop-in events as they step up attempts to win over local people.

They will go ahead at:

Thursday March 10 – from 3pm-8pm at Foxton Village Hall, Middle Street, Foxton

Friday March 11 – from 3pm-8pm at Harborough District Council’s Symington Building on Adam and Eve Street, Market Harborough

Thursday March 17 – from 3pm-8pm at Lubenham Village Hall, Laughton Road, Lubenham.

The MoJ is also holding an online webinar event from 6pm-7pm on Wednesday March 2.

Please email [email protected] if you’d like to attend.

And if you would like to join a dedicated new Community Liaison Group you can email the MoJ at the above address or call 0333 358 0502 from 9am-5.30pm Monday to Friday.

The MoJ said residents may have spotted contractors undertaking the following work:

Site surveys – they are needed to “inform the development of the prison design and advise the local planning authority of the existing site conditions to enable them to make a decision, this includes surveys of ground conditions, topography, archaeology and ecology surveys”

Badger sett construction and tree planting – they have been “installed to protect the badger population on site, the additional tree planting and fruit bearing shrubs will improve the habitat for the badgers”.