Land at RAF Wethersfield could be used for homes or prison

Base could make way for homes or prison.

Base could make way for homes or prison. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Instead of building houses on the former RAF base at Wethersfield, the land could be more suitable for a prison, a council leader has said.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Defence listed the base as one of 10 sites to meet the target of 160,000 new homes in the UK by 2020, including a possible 4,500 at Wethersfield.

The MOD land sell-off will generate an estimated £640million to be used for defence spending.

Graham Butland, leader of Braintree District Council, said living near a prison was one of the safest places to be: “Either the people inside them are locked up – or if they do escape, then they don’t hang around.”

Councillor Butland told the Broadcast: “I had a letter from the Ministry of Justice about two months ago, asking council leaders for sites suitable for prisons.

“I wrote back and said the MOD had empty land that could well be suitable. This was just my idea, it has not been put to the council.

”It’s a fairly isolated site, there is no significant housing there and it is close to Stansted Airport. It’s not a greenfield site, it’s a brownfield site because it has a ruddy great runway on it.

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“RAF Wethersfield is an eyesore and something needs to be done.

“Prisons bring jobs, not just prison officers but support services and maintenance.”

Cllr Butland said he was one of the few council leaders in Britain who had been inside most of Britain’s prisons. He added: “I’ve been inside about 80 prisons, Some of the oldest ones like Holloway and Wandsworth are appalling.

“Before I retired, I was responsible for transferring health services to prisons as the chief executive of South Essex Health Authority.”

He added: “We are committed to building some 15,000 houses in the district in the next 17 years and you need to provide jobs to go with them.

“In 2014, Braintree District Council put out a call for sites suitable for housing.

“The response was 380 sites put forward. If all of them were built on that would give them 50,000 houses – not just the 15,000 needed.”

Every site has been visited by a council officer and the assessment ends in June. However, Cllr Butland said if the MOD put forward RAF Wethersfield it too would have to be looked at.

Alan Bowers, vice chairman of Wethersfield Parish Council, said on balance when it came to a choice between housing or a prison, he thought villagers would chose housing.

“People are always fearful about prisons though the place is well-guarded at the moment, you can’t get in or out of it.

“I think they will go for housing because people need housing. The must be loads of old ships that you could put prisoners on and float them out on that.”

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