Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has dodged a question over the future of Reading Prison nearly 10 years on since its closure.

The prison, which is also referred to as Reading Gaol, was closed in January 2014.

The Ministry of Justice began a procedure to sell it in the years following its closure.

But thousands in Reading and beyond have called for the sale to be stopped and the building being turned into a theatre and arts hub.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was confronted with the lack of progress on any form of development at the prison in a landmark interview with BBC Radio Berkshire host Andrew Peach.

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Mr Peach asked: “It’s 10 years pretty much since the Ministry of Justice told us they were closing Reading Prison in order to sell the site.

“Since when, it’s stood empty looking a mess and costing millions of pounds in security. You are the fifth Prime Minister I’ve asked about this on the Peach Show, but are you going to be the one who is going to do something about it?

PM Sunak said: “Look, my understanding of this is that the sale is progressing, but the proposed development needs to be approved and is subject to approval from the borough council at Reading and the planning department there and they’ll need to apply all their usual due diligence requirements.

“That’s a matter for the local council, and it’s also a commercial matter, so it’s tough for me to comment beyond that.”

A similar answer was given by Damian Hinds, the prisons minister and Conservative MP for East Hampshire in Parliament.

Mr Hinds was asked to reconsider and hand the Prison to Reading Borough Council, with 13,000 people signing a petition against its sale to a housing developer.

However, Mr Hinds replied that the sale is in progress during a parliamentary session on Tuesday, September 12.

Reading Chronicle: The Reading Gaol hug in 2019. Credit: Chris ForseyThe Reading Gaol hug in 2019. Credit: Chris Forsey

No mention was made of the prospect of the Prison being turned into a theatre and arts hub for the community during the PM’s BBC interview.

Mr Peach then pressed PM Sunak to apologise for the long-vacant state of the Gaol.

He said: “Would you like to apologise for having left the Prison standing there for 10 years on behalf of previous Prime Ministers, Justice Secretaries, prisons ministers, who’ve all been on the Show  giving that sort of answer in the past?”

PM Sunak replied: “Look, again, all I can tell you is what I know, and what I know now is that the sale is progressing, but the development is subject to approval from the council, and they will go through a due diligence process as is normal, and because it’s a matter for them, and it’s also a commercial matter  it’s tough for me to comment beyond that.”

The interview was held at 9am on Thursday, September 28.

PM Sunak is also the Conservative MP for Richmond, Yorkshire.