9,730 signatures against Essex mega-prison plans

SWAP (Stop Wethersfield Airfield Prisons) campaign supporters in Great Bardfield, Essex

Archive image: SWAP (Stop Wethersfield Airfield Prisons) campaign supporters raise the issue in Great Bardfield - Credit: The Fields Association (SWAP Campaign)

Over 9,700 people have signed a petition against plans to build two new mega-prisons in the Essex countryside.

And if the petition reaches 10,000 it forces Government to respond.

Stop Wethersfield Airfield Prisons (SWAP) wants the Ministry of Justice to abandon the idea of building two prisons the size of a town on the former World War Two Wethersfield airbase.

Campaigners have been bolstered by support from wildlife television presenter Chris Packham.

He has highlighted the importance of the ecology of the airfield via Facebook, and asked his followers to sign the petition, stating: "Wethersfield Airfield is a rural north Essex wildlife oasis at risk from TWO mega prisons - the biggest in Europe.  

"The site is currently home to 401 species of invertebrates, 271 species of plants and 74 species of birds (including many rare & protected species)."

The petition, called Do not build two new prisons at Wethersfield Air Base, says that campaigners believe the Government "is reneging on commitments in the Environment Act to stop the decline of wildlife".

The petition says the former airfield has become an important space for nature.

Members of SWAP have again lobbied ahead of a meeting of Braintree District Council, pressing them to stop the MoJ’s proposed development. SWAP’s alternative proposal is for a country park.

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Alan MacKenzie, chair of the SWAP campaign, said they are keenly anticipating their Parliamentary Petition reaching 10,000 signatures.

Mr MacKenzie said 12 parishes have formed the Wethersfield Airbase Scrutiny Committee to oppose the development.

He said there are many problems with the plan including small country roads and a lack of access or public transport.

Mr MacKenzie said that SWAP has seen a letter sent to the MoJ which suggests that "at present it is unlikely the scheme could be supported from a heritage perspective".

He added: "The evidence is already obvious - it just takes someone at the MoJ to digest it and decide enough is enough."

A Braintree District Council spokesperson, said: “Braintree District Council has not received a formal planning application from the MoJ on their prison proposals.

"If and when the Council receives a planning application, residents, partners, stakeholders and businesses will have the opportunity to submit their views and comments through the planning process.”

The Ministry of Justice has been asked to comment.

They previously said they wanted to work closely with residents before submitting a planning application.


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