Campaigners quiz council over its Wethersfield prisons letters

Stop Wethersfield Airfield Prisons campaigners with their banner at a protest in Braintree in December 2021

Stop Wethersfield Airfield Prisons campaigners at a protest in Braintree in December 2021 - Credit: Will Durrant

Campaigners who want to stop a prisons building proposal near Braintree have quizzed the council on its letters to the ministries of Justice and Defence.

Stop Wethersfield Airfield Prisons (SWAP) protestors spoke at a Braintree District Council planning committee meeting on Tuesday, January 11.

They want to prevent the Ministry of Justice from building two prisons on a former Cold War airbase near Wethersfield, owned by the Ministry of Defence.

Councillor Graham Butland, council leader, recommended the airfield as a prison site to the MoJ in 2016.

Alan MacKenzie from SWAP spoke at the planning committee meeting and asked whether the committee should have been consulted before the council wrote to the MoJ.

Alan asked: "Is there a policy laid down regarding a response to a government department's request for information about potential sites for a huge development?

"Does the planning committee consider the response made by a Corporate Director to the Ministry of Justice Estate Directorate letter in 2016 was proportionate, professional, fully informative, not misleading and reflected the view of the council?"

Nick Chapman, also of SWAP, asked: "Has Braintree District Council considered, or will it consider, the purchase of any buildings to use in support of the community?

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"Will the planning committee ask the Defence Infrastructure Organisation why it will not engage with the community and others on the prospective use of the other 172 hectares not subject to the MoJ’s proposals?"

The entrance to Wethersfield Airfield, near Finchingfield in Essex

Campaigners raised questions over whether facilities on the Wethersfield Airfield complex could be used by countryside communities - Credit: Google Earth

Cllr Wendy Scattergood, the meeting chair, answered by saying the council would supply the speakers with written responses.

This is because the prisons plan was not listed on the meeting agenda, so time could not be allocated to discuss the points raised.

At a meeting on December 13, Cllr Butland said residents will have a chance to comment on the proposals if Braintree District Council receives a planning application in the future.

The Ministry of Defence said it is required to offer surplus land to other departments, like the MoJ, under Treasury guidelines.

An MoD spokesperson said: "We are working with the local authority to release the remainder of site for alternative use."