Community leaders are fighting plans to sell the former Reading Prison off to the highest bidder.

Reading’s art and heritage community is planning to launch a petition calling for the former prison – known as Reading Gaol - to be used as an arts hub.

The idea of starting a petition was suggested at the council's Art & Heritage Forum on Wednesday, after Matt Rodda MP announced that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has decided to 'sell it off to the highest bidder'.

The plans were revealed to the MP for Reading East by Prisons Minister Rory Stewart.

Matt Rodda MP said: "I am very disappointed that the MoJ is planning to sell the prison to the highest bidder.

"I think the Reading Gaol is a very important part of our history and I would like to see it used as an arts hub not as luxury flats."

All members of the Reading Borough Council-run (RBC) forum agreed action need to be taken to protect the site’s future use.

A letter from Melvin Benn, chairman of Theatre & Arts Reading (TAR), was read out at the meeting.

He said: “We remain committed to plans for the Gaol site as an arts hub – but this response was not a surprise.

“The site remains a complicated one in terms of any development of it.

“We appreciate people would want to campaign that the Gaol be sold to a body that ensure the site can actively benefit Reading residents and beyond and TAR would do that.”

He suggested the petition message could read: “The people of Reading would urge the MoJ to dispose of the Reading Gaol site to an organisation which would secure its future as an arts hub with facilities that would benefit Reading residents.”

Matt Rodda MP said he thought starting a petition was 'a very good idea'.

He added: "I am thinking of ways to continue the campaign. I am trying to persuade Rory Stewart. He is an author himself."

More than 50,000 people attended a 2016 arts exhibition at the gaol, famous for its best-known inmate, Oscar Wilde.

The council has since altered its planning brief for the site from saying it ‘could’ be an arts hub to it ‘should’ be an arts hub.

A feasibility study into the creation of the arts hub, funded by Arts Council England and commissioned by TAR, was carried out last year.

TAR will publish the study when it has been allowed access to an earlier report by the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) on behalf of MoJ, which has not yet been publicly released.