Extra time called for in bid to save Reading Gaol

Reading Gaol
Reading Gaol Hug - Matt Rodda gives the plans for an arts centre the thumbs up

THE CAMPAIGN to turn Reading Gaol into an arts centre could go into extra time if a request for an extension is approved.

Last week, Reading East MP Matt Rodda wrote to the secretary of state for justice to ask for more time for Reading Borough Council to put together its bid, and prevent the site from being put up for sale again.

At the moment, it has to be submitted by Wednesday, March 15.

The site, which is thought to have links to Henry I, as well as being famous for hosting Oscar Wilde, had been bought by a developer who pulled out.

This opened the way for the council to put together its proposal, which would celebrate its heritage as well as the arts.

The plan has celebrity backing and Mr Rodda has been working with local groups to try and get the bid over the line.

In his letter, sent to Robert Buckland, he wrote: “A significant amount of work is underway to develop a bid, however it is clear that this will take longer to complete than the initial period of three months offered by the Ministry of Justice last year.”

He said that additional time would help create the business plan and add further details about how arts, heritage and community organisations could help.

“A community bid for the gaol has the potential to save a unique historic building, which is of national and international importance because of its links to Oscar Wilde and as the burial place of King Henry I, in the ruins of Reading Abbey which sit under the gaol,” he added.

On Friday, Reading Borough Council organised a summit bringing together representatives from local arts, culture, heritage, business and LGBTQ+ communities, and politicians.

Cllr Tony Page, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Councillor for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said: “There remains tremendous enthusiasm across all sectors of our community to bring the empty Reading Goal site back to life by creating an arts, heritage and cultural hub of both local and national significance, sitting as it does within our historic Abbey Quarter.

“Our ambition is very clear, but we know that the development of the Reading Gaol site comes with parameters, both in terms of planning constraints designed to protect its historical, archaeological and cultural value, and of course serious financial constraints, in terms of developing a robust business case with external funding streams.

“This is not something the Council can deliver on its own.”

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