The government is close to selling Reading Prison to a landowner despite a petition to stop the sale nearing 13,000 signatures.

Matt Rodda, the Labour MP for Reading East, has a petition calling for the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to abandon the sale of Reading Prison and protect the site for public use.

Reading Borough Council and performing arts groups in the town hope that the prison could be turned into an arts hub.

However, the MoJ is closing in on the sale, which is expected to be completed later this Autumn.

That is despite the petition against the sale receiving 12,921 signatures.

Mr Rodda has been lobbying for the MoJ to reconsider in meetings alongside Sir Alok Sharma, the Conservative MP for Reading West and Damian Hinds, the prisons minister and Conservative MP for East Hampshire.

READ MORE: 'Mecca' for LGBT community: Battle to save prison from sell-off to highest bidder

The sale of the prison, also referred to Reading Gaol, was discussed in Parliament on Tuesday, September 12.

Asking a question of Mr Hinds, Mr Rodda said: “Reading Gaol is a hugely important historic building.

“Now nearly 13,000 people across Berkshire have signed a petition asking the government to work with me and the local arts community to turn the gaol into an arts hub, will he now reconsider the government’s approach it has taken them a long time to discuss a proposed sale with their preferred bidder and no progress or slow progress has been made.

“Will he now reconsider and will he work with me, Reading Borough Council and the local arts community to save this wonderful building?”

Mr Hinds replied: “The sale is progressing, any proposed development of course would be subject to approval from the Reading Borough Council planning department, and of course the usual due diligence requirements will apply.

“We quite often throw around the term ‘doughty campaigner’ in this chamber, but I can certainly say in respect of the honourable gentleman [Mr Rodda] and my right honourable friend his neighbour [Sir Alok], they have indeed been incredibly assiduous in their attention to this matter on behalf of their constituents, and in turn, I commit him that we will absolutely stay in touch.”

Reading Prison was formally closed in January 2014 and put up for sale by the MoJ in October 2019.

The idea for the building to be turned into a theatre and arts hub gained popularity after it was used for an arts exhibition in 2016.

Reading Chronicle: The Banksy mural on the wall of Reading Prison, which appeared in February 2021.The Banksy mural on the wall of Reading Prison, which appeared in February 2021.

The campaign to give the Prison over to theatre and arts community use has gained support from Stephen Fry, Kate Winslet, Dame Judi Dench, Sir Kenneth Branagh.

Following his exchange with Mr Hinds, Mr Rodda said: “Please do keep signing this petition and help me to put pressure on the Government to change its approach and to work with local arts and heritage organisations so that we can preserve this wonderful building rather than it being turned into luxury flats”.