PLANS to turn Reading's empty prison into a theatre have gathered steam thanks to a substantial grant.

Arts Council England (ACE) presented Arts Council England (ACE) has given a £20,000 grant to Theatre Arts Reading (TAR).

With matched funding from the Trafalgar Entertainment Group and Festival Republic, TAR has been able to commission architects Foster Wilson to undertake a study.

The study will determine whether or not a theatre could go on the site on Forbury Road.

Councillor Tony Page, deputy leader of Reading Borough Council, previously slammed the Ministry of Justice for failing to close HMP Reading.

He told the Chronicle that the site had cost the taxpayer more than £1million to 'mothball' over the last four years.

Cllr Page said: “The Council welcomes this study. It builds on the obvious potential seen first-hand by thousands of Reading people last year when the prison was open for theatrical performances, historic displays and wider cultural appreciation.

"Reading Prison was suddenly and abruptly shut by Government, with zero notice to residents or indeed the local authority.

"In that time it has sat empty and has cost tax payers around £1 million just to mothball the building.

"If it had been the council who owned that building, we would have been rightly castigated."

"I urge the Ministry of Justice to announce the much-delayed timetable for disposing of this historic site.”

HMP Prison was prematurely shut down in 2013 as part of the Government's desire to replace outdated prisons with more modern ones.

Tim Foster of Foster Wilson said: "We are very excited to be undertaking this design study to look at the opportunity to develop a large-scale theatre for Reading, which will enhance the town’s cultural offer and create a home for high quality touring theatre."

The Grade II listed site has since been used infrequently for performances and had been suggested as a potential homeless refuge.

Melvin Benn, chairman of TAR, added:” We are grateful to the Arts Council for the funding and very excited to be looking at the gaol site.

“The gaol would be a wonderful place to have a new theatre and possibly other arts facilities.”