Anger over Coltishall jail plan

Norfolk will have a new jail at the former RAF Coltishall airbase after the government finally announced its intentions for the site yesterday after months of uncertainty.

Norfolk will have a new jail at the former RAF Coltishall airbase after the government finally announced its intentions for the site yesterday after months of uncertainty.

One Norfolk MP said last night he was concerned about the viability of the prison because it was born out of “crisis management” and voiced fears the government could change its mind just a few years down the line, throwing local communities into yet more upheaval.

The plan to put a low security Category C prison on the 750-acre base is still subject to planning permission, but yesterday's announcement in the House of Commons by justice secretary Jack Straw was clear in its intentions.

As part of a national prisons review designed to bring an additional 10,500 prison places into use by 2014, Mr Straw said: “To provide additional capacity in the short to medium term we intend to convert a former Ministry of Defence site at Coltishall in Norfolk into a Category C prison.”

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Mr Straw said he thought local people would be “relieved” at the news a prison would be built at the site rather than an immigration centre and the creation of a prison at the base was a “sensible use”. He also said there was data to prove there would be no impact on house prices near the base.

He also detailed a raft of projects across the country including a new breed of massive jails holding 2,500 inmates called “Titan” prisons, three of which will be built.

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All the projects will be funded by an extra £1.2 billion which will see the number of prison places in England and Wales increase to 96,000 within the next seven years.

The RAF Coltishall plan was met with mixed feelings yesterday both by the community and local politicians.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said an earlier assessment had revealed the base to be unsuitable for a prison.

“So what has changed? The answer is they have a crisis with choc-a-block prisons.

“This site is still remote, it is still a long way from centres of population and it will impede family visits, which research tells us is vital in reducing reoffending rates.

“It doesn't seem like a rationale decision and if that's the case how long will it last? In five years will we be faced with a reconsideration, which will cause more problems?”

Mid Norfolk counterpart Keith Simpson said: “If this goes ahead, and it is clearly something the local communities do not want, it is vital that people are given guarantees about security and they are given confidence in the plan.

“There is also a very great need for some clarity on various issues - exactly what a Category C prison is, how much of the land at the base it will use and what happens to the rest of that land.”

Mr Simpson said he had been told the prison would probably create around the same amount of employment as an earlier proposal to build an immigration centre on the site - around 400 to 500 jobs.

And he added that he was confident of securing a visit to Norfolk by prisons minister David Hanson in January.

A Border and Immigration Agency spokesman confirmed last night the jail plan meant the immigration centre plan was no longer being considered as an option.

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