Almost seven years after Reading Gaol closed, it remains a symbol of delay and indecision.
Last week’s news that the proposed sale is off leaves the prospect of more years of it lying empty at a cost of £250,000 a year, ironically for keeping it secure from people who might want to break in.
It’s a further irony that the MoJ insists it wants maximum value for the taxpayer while keeping it empty.
And in yet another irony the Government is considering simplifying and speeding up the planning process so that developments can be unlocked and freed from red tape and delay. We’ve lost two prime ministers in the time this Government-owned site has been empty.
Reading Social members who attended one of our events at Green Park last year, heard how difficult the site is to develop. It is Grade II-listed but was built on part of Reading Abbey, now a scheduled monument.
What can be found underground is potentially so significant that it’s hard to imagine a day when diggers will be churning up the grounds.
Given all the problems, the obvious move would surely be to allow the council to explore how to make the most of the site and to finally allow the world to see Oscar Wilde’s famous cell.
Yet who can have confidence that the Government will not simply dig its heels in further at an increasing cost, rather than admit its mistake? Having no plan and dragging out the saga at great cost to everyone sounds painfully familiar in 2020.
The site has an incredible history, not just relating to the prison and its inmates but to 900 years of Reading Abbey.
If the MoJ continues to do nothing when there seems little prospect of a buyer, that really would be criminal.
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