Mayor of Reading Cllr Tony Page addressed rumours about an imminent announcement of the sale of Reading Prison at the launch of the new Reading BIDs on January 10.

Cllr Page spoke before the Ministry of Justice announced the sale to the Ziran Education Foundation, which was made public the following day.

Cllr Page praised the work by the town’s economic development agency REDA in lobbying on behalf of Reading – and the prison site, a landmark in the Abbey Quarter, was in his sights.

He told the meeting, which was held at The Blade: “The one project that still remains a great challenge for all of us because of the uncertainties is right next to us here and that’s the future of the prison.

“The BID, along with individual businesses and individuals here tonight, regard that as a huge opportunity for Reading and indeed the region.

“The frustration is of course the huge incompetence on the part of the Government in terms of moving that forward. We’ve been promised for the last year, an imminent decision.

“And we were promised an imminent announcement in the Summer, in the Autumn, just before Christmas and, working closely with (Reading East MP) Matt Rodda and to a lesser extent because he’s stepping back (Reading West MP) Alok Sharma, we are told that an announcement is imminent.

“We know that there are one or two individuals that have been identified as the likely purchaser of the prison but I can assure you that the BID – and the council – and others will take up every opportunity to ensure that our collective vision for the potential of that site is delivered.

“My fear is that the rumour of a foreign purchaser is somebody that is looking to asset strip in the same way as investment in some of our football clubs has gone, not least locally.

“So we are going to have to be very vigilant to ensure that investment in the prison delivers a dividend in to the local community. The diversity and potential of that site is huge.

“I know that Nigel (Horton-Baker, REDA chief executive), Adam (Jacobs, REDA chair) and others are very much up to the challenge and have been doing their own lobbying of ministers, of Government and the council so we will look forward to rising to that challenge and ensuring that the prison forms a central part of the Abbey Quarter.

“The potential is huge. The benefits in terms of culture, the economy, tourism, are huge. And we at the council, working with the BID, will look to seizing every opportunity.”

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