A parliamentary candidate in Reading says the council should fund a historic swimming pool rather than Reading prison.

Reading Borough Council (RBC) has unveiled plans to turn Arthur Hill into key worker housing, which will be voted on tomorrow (Thursday, September 26).

Campaigners say the pool, which closed in 2016, was given to the people of Reading and is a vital facility.

The council also announced recently it is considering bidding for Reading Prison, which the government is selling following its closure in 2014.

"Fully behind Arthur Hill campaign"

Craig Morley is “fully behind” the Arthur Hill campaign to keep the pool for its original purpose but said the prison should be sold “as soon as possible for the most money”.

The Conservative Party’s parliamentary candidate for Reading East said: “I learned to swim at Arthur Hill as a young boy. It is sad to see it close and run down the way it has been.

“Reading has always had a dearth of swimming pools. It was a much-loved local amenity. Palmer Park will take a number of years.”

Councillor Jason Brock, leader of RBC, says turning the Arthur Hill site into housing for doctors, teachers and social workers will make best use of the vacant site.

RBC remains “fully committed” to providing a new community swimming pool in Palmer Park to replace Arthur Hill.

READ MORE: Reading Gaol: £1.6m has been spent to maintain vacant building

"For the vast majority of people it is a prison"

More than 5,000 people have signed a petition to save Reading Gaol.

Campaigners are planning a mass hug of the Grade II-listed prison, famous for Oscar Wilde’s 2-year incarceration, in their latest attempt to ensure it becomes an arts hub.

Mr Morley says Reading prison “is not a local amenity” and “for the vast majority of people” it is a prison.

He added: “It is absolutely right the government get the most money for the taxpayer for a prison that is not needed.

“If you want to increase facilities for arts and culture why not rebuild the Hexagon as an arts and culture hub.”

READ MORE: Former Reading Gaol inmate turned successful chef 'would love to see' youth centre built

"The appetite to see the prison opened up is enormous"

Councillor Tony Page, lead member for Planning and deputy leader at RBC, responded: “We published a planning framework in 2017 setting out exactly what we want to see at the prison.

“The local community flocked in their thousands when Archangel opened the exhibition in 2017. The potential became self-evident.

“Some of it will have to provide a revenue stream to subsidise the more philanthropic activities.”

The bidding process for the prison will be late September or early October and RBC will be one of the contenders.

Cllr Page says there is a precedent, with Hambleton District Council buying Northallerton Prison for £1.4 million in April 2015.

He said he has written to Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland who “responded very favourably” to the council’s interest in bidding and has made it clear that is something they are willing to look at.

The RBC deputy leader added: “He was very keen to emphasise that he understood the importance of the prison and our aspiration for it.

“I hope there will be a strong bid from the council or Theatre and Arts Reading for the whole site. This is a once in a 900-year opportunity.

“The local appetite to see the prison opened up is enormous. Reading Prison is unique because it has a national and international history.

“It is the only prison site that sits on a huge archaeological treasure.”