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We'll spell out jail benefits - Minister

PUBLISHED: 08:10 03 May 2008 | UPDATED: 08:57 13 July 2010

Prisons minister David Hanson has sought to reassure the community around the former RAF Coltishall airbase that an impending planning application for a 500-strong prison will include evidence of the economic benefits to the area.

Prisons minister David Hanson has sought to reassure the community around the former RAF Coltishall airbase that an impending planning application for a 500-strong prison will include evidence of the economic benefits to the area.

The Ministry of Justice has repeatedly failed to respond to requests for documentation backing up their claims of a £7m annual boost to the area on the back of the category C jail.

They have also failed to produce an independent report which says house prices will not be hit in the long term, although the same document reportedly concedes values could suffer during the construction phase.

Many people have expressed their disappointment that since a three-day public consultation process in mid February, there has been no effective communication from the ministry or any of its arms, even though the Eastern Daily Press has made several requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

Responding directly to an article in the EDP last month making these points, Mr Hanson said the responsible body, the National Offender Management Service, was “certainly not deliberately keeping residents in the dark”.

Mr Hanson, who made the comments in writing to Mid Norfolk MP Keith Simpson after Mr Simpson showed him the EDP article, added that since the February consultation, the planning proposal for the development had been amended in response to public comments.

Commenting on the £7m a year claim, he said: “We have prepared an economic impact report specifically on the proposed prison development which will fully support the assessments that were given about the income to be generated in the local economy.

“This will be part of the planning application and at that point will be in the public domain.

“At this point the report covering the affect on house prices of a prison development will also be available to public scrutiny.”

Mr Hanson went on to address other issues raised by the EDP, local politicians and the public, including concerns about the safety of converting the former airmen's 'H' blocks into cells and the fact the prison service's policy of housing prisoners close to home appeared to be impossible to achieve when using a site so far from where prison places were actually needed.

On the latter point he said: “Ideally a prisoner will be sent to a prison as close as possible to his home although it is accepted that the current population pressures have made this difficult to achieve.

“In the case of Coltishall, we would be prepared to provide a shuttle bus for visitors between the new prison and Norwich station.”

Mr Simpson said: “I feel David Hanson is very open and he has gone through the concerns point by point.

“I'm not sure the newly formed ministry beneath him is working as well as it could, but I am pleased he has responded with this information.

“What his letter does do is put to rest any idea this is not going to happen.”

The prison planning application is currently being assessed by both North Norfolk and Broadland District Councils and is due to be put into the public domain next week.

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