THE new owner of Shepton Mallet Prison has assured residents they will have a say in its future.
After City and Country was last week revealed as the successful buyer, bosses quickly pledged to engage with the people of the town before firming up plans for the site.
A development group specialising in the conversion of listed and historic buildings for residential and commercial uses, the company made a bid for the site in a package with Dorchester, Kingston and Gloucester prisons.
A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spokesman confirmed contracts had been exchanged and said: “We have worked with a number of organisations, including local authorities and English Heritage, and always seek the best value for the taxpayer.” He would not comment on claims the MoJ had failed to listen to the people of Shepton before making the sale.
In a letter to Tessa Munt MP, the MoJ suggested “mixed use schemes including residential development with assisted living units, complementary retail and social amenity area” were likely at the site, but bosses at City and Country say they have no fixed plans yet.
Managing director Helen Moore said: “The prison is an excellent collection of very interesting historic and listed buildings. At this stage City and Country has no fixed plans for the redevelopment of the sites because we always engage first with local people and key stakeholders to understand their aspirations, before drawing up firm proposals; as we recognise the importance of these buildings at the heart of their local community.
“We will start this process in the new year, which will ultimately lead to future planning and listed building applications that breathe new life into these historic buildings and bring them back into a long term, viable and beneficial use for the benefit of current and future generations.”
Ms Munt contacted City and Country asking for a public meeting so representatives had the chance to listen to the ideas and views of local people. The company agreed.
Ms Munt said: “The very best thing that could have happened would have been to keep Shepton Mallet Prison open. It was very successful and provided so many jobs. The next best thing is to bring the whole place back into use, with the full involvement of the local community.
“I’m surprised the MoJ felt sufficient consultation would take place within the planning process. Luckily, from my conversations with the director of City and Country it is clear the company has not yet settled its development plan. This means there is a fantastic opportunity for our views to be taken into account.”
Campaigner Claire Sully, who started a petition calling for the community to have a say in the prison’s future, said: “This gives us an opportunity to get a vision statement together ratified by the local community and stakeholders. I’m optimistic.”
She believes the key things people want are to celebrate the history and heritage of the prison and town, to have a community space and to have a sustainable economic model.
James Heappey, prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for the area, said: “The redevelopment of the prison is an opportunity for Shepton Mallet. The building work alone will create jobs in the area as will whatever commercial space is included in the development. Just as importantly, the increased town centre population, as opposed to ‘out of town’ housing estates, should also mean a much-needed increase in footfall on Shepton’s High Street.”
About City and Country:
CITY and Country says it specialises in conserving, restoring and creating Britain’s architectural heritage.
The family-owned business was founded in 1962.
Over the past 50 years City and Country has become a niche developer, specialising in working with the country’s architectural heritage and sensitive landscapes.
A spokesman for the company said: “Our success has only been achieved through genuine collaboration and working in partnership with local authorities, English Heritage, Natural England, landowners, our development partners and other key stakeholders.”
City and Country is currently converting the old General Hospital in the centre of Bristol into luxury apartments and houses.
The company’s portfolio of developments also includes Gilston Park House in Gilston, the Grade I listed Balls Park Mansion House in Hertford and The Grange, in Old Stevenage, which is a group of Grade II and Grade II* listed buildings arranged around a courtyard.
Shepton Mallet Prison is Grade II* listed. This means nothing about the prison building can be changed without special permission from the local planning authority.