Parish councils form protest committee against Wethersfield prisons plan

Wethersfield parish councillors John Pearce and David Wilson at Blackmore End Village Hall

Wethersfield parish councillors John Pearce and David Wilson will represent the area on a new prisons protest committee. Picture: Will Durrant - Credit: Archant

Parish councils are set to team up to protest against a prisons scheme in Essex.

Wethersfield parish councillors have agreed to set up a committee which could work with councils further afield to oppose a prison-building plan.

Their meeting follows a Ministry of Justice consultation on a proposal to build two new prisons on the former Wethersfield airbase to accommodate around 3,430 inmates in total.

The MoJ claims its plans will help create 18,000 new prison places nationwide by the mid-2020s, and will benefit the economy by creating "hundreds" of new jobs.

A drawing of the proposed Wethersfield prison in Essex

The Ministry of Justice plans to build two prisons on the former RAF Wethersfield base - Credit: Ministry of Justice

But seven parish councils covering Finchingfield, Shalford, The Bardfields and The Salings, among others, fear the plans will harm the countryside.

Wethersfield Parish Council will "host" the committee and more councils could be invited to join in future.

At a meeting on Wednesday, November 10, parish councillor David Wilson said: "We will communicate our plans with a sense of urgency."

He added: "By the end of November, I envisage we would have had a meeting so that we can hear the views of councils who want to be a part of our committee."

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How the committee will fight the prison plans is yet to be discussed.

But Shalford council chair Andrew Hull told members that the plan is so detrimental that a portion of each parish council's tax allowance should be handed to the committee.

Speaking as a member of the public, Cllr Hull said: "Contributing 10% of your precept would be a good starting point, and other parish councils could follow suit."

The committee will decide how much funding it needs at a later meeting.

Cllr Hull said that the MoJ's consultation on the prisons, which ran between September and November, was inadequate.

He said: "Not all villages received letters on the plans.

"It should not be counted as community involvement."

Residents and councillors will be able to comment on the plans again if the ministry decides to submit a planning application to Braintree District Council.

An MoJ spokesperson said: "These plans would create hundreds of jobs for the community.

"No final decisions have been made."