More time is needed to develop a community bid for Reading Prison, a local MP has said.

Reading East MP Matt Rodda has sent a letter to the Ministry of Justice, asking to give the community extra time to develop a bid for Reading Gaol.

He said a significant amount of work is underway to develop the bid, but it is clear it will take longer to complete than the initial three months offered by the MoJ last year.

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In December, Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland offered Reading Borough Council (RBC) community a three-month exclusivity period until March 15 to develop a community bid.

The sale of the Grade-II listed prison where Oscar Wilde was jailed collapsed in November after the bidder withdrew.

In a letter to Secretary of State for Justice, Mr Rodda said: “It was a pleasure to speak to you about Reading Gaol in December and I appreciate your offer of help with this important project.

“When we spoke in Parliament you asked me to contact you if the community bid required more time to develop its business plan and, following discussion with Reading Borough Council and other interested parties, I can confirm we would like to take up your offer of further time to develop this bid.

“A significant amount of work is underway to develop a bid, however it is clear that this will take longer to complete than the initial period of three months offered by the Ministry of Justice last year.”

He said having additional time will allow the community to provide:

  • A detailed business plan
  • More specific proposals about the use of the site
  • Further details about the involvement of arts, heritage and community organisations

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The Reading East MP added: “A community bid for the gaol has the potential to save a unique historic building, which is of national and international importance because of its links to Oscar Wilde and as the burial place of King Henry I, in the ruins of Reading Abbey which sit under the gaol.

“I am also grateful for your interest in the potential for this project to support the arts, heritage and for its significance for community groups, including the LGBT community.”

More than 7,000 people have signed a petition to save the gaol.

Supporters include the chair of the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee, Julian Knight MP, Reading West MP Alok Sharma and Reading mayor Cllr David Stevens.

There is cross-party support on Reading Borough Council (RBC) and the project is also supported by local arts, LGBT and heritage groups.

Support is growing and includes leading actors such as Dame Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh, Spooks actor Shazad Latif and Stephen Fry.