THE future of Reading’s empty prison could be about to take an important leap forward after talks opened up between the council and Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

Campaigners have battled to turn the derelict facility into an arts hub or a temporary site for the town’s homeless community.

Further concerns were raised when it was revealed that it was costing the taxpayer more than £250,000 every year to maintain the prison.

Piers Knight, who started a petition to utilise the prison as a homeless shelter, believes the site is not being used to full potential in the interim phase.

He said: “The costs have racked up considerably and we have got the highest rate of homelessness, not just in Berkshire, but in the South East.

“We, as taxpayers, should have some say as to how it is being utilised on a temporary basis and people in the local area should have access to it.

“It just seems criminal that something like this is not being used.

“It is a huge complex and it is all going to waste.”

Mr Knight was inspired to start his petition after a storm battered Berkshire earlier this year and his thoughts turned to the vulnerable people on the streets.

However, calls from the arts community and those who would like to see the prison used as a shelter appear to have taken a back seat.

Talks between Reading Borough Council (RBC) and the MoJ are now in progress over the potential sale of the prison, five years after it was shut down.

This follows extensive archaeological screening of the area and it is thought that the sale could move forward later this year.

Members of Theatre Arts Reading received a substantial grant worth £20,000 in order to accelerate an interest in making a move for the site.

The arts group had intended to carry out a series of site visits to determine the future use of the prison, but they were denied access during the archaeological study.

RBC’s deputy leader, councillor Tony Page, previously encouraged the MoJ to sell the land.

He added: “The prison cannot continue to lay empty. If it had been the council who owned that building, we would have been rightly castigated.”