FRESH calls to rethink plans to hand over Reading Gaol to a commercial bidder have come from MP Matt Rodda.

The member of parliament for Reading East said turning it into a 'hotel or luxury flats' would be a 'tragic waste' of its 'unique' British history.

It follows the decision made last month by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to reject Reading Borough Council's (RBC) bid to purchase the site.

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In a letter to the Minister of State (for the MoJ) Lucy Frazer, Mr Rodda writes: "It is now clear that the country, and the world as a whole, faces a challenging economic situation, with most economists predicting the coronavirus pandemic will cause a recession - with some going further and suggesting that this could be deeper and more damaging than other recent economic problems.

"A recession would have a damaging impact across most sectors of the British economy, although it is expected to hit the hospitality sector particularly hard, making development projects which are based on hotel building or luxury accommodation particularly vulnerable.

"The current preferred bidder could face significant difficulties paying for the site and financing the proposed development, which could leave the Department unable to sell the site, or struggling to complete the sale.

"Even if a bidder bought the site, any development could be difficult to finance and build."

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The MP urged the MoJ to reconsider its plans under the financial strains that the pandemic has brought about, adding that he would work with other local MPs and the council to explore arts and heritage uses.

RBC has always emphasised the historical and cultural value of the vacant Reading Gaol site, in hopes of re-opening the Grade I listed Reading Abbey Ruins.

The council’s position remains that the Reading Gaol site – sitting next to The Abbey on a site of national significance – offers huge potential for heritage-led regeneration.

Mr Rodda added: "Given the unique nature of the site and the significant level of support together with the unprecedented economic situation caused by the pandemic, I hope you will agree that there is a strong case for a review of the Department’s earlier decision.

"In addition, I would ask you to reconsider the alternative approach of turning the gaol into an arts and heritage hub and for the historic building and the site as a whole to be preserved for the community."

The MoJ has not announced who the successful bidder is and no plans to develop the site have yet been announced.