Doing nothing with Kingston prison is 
not an option

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Kingston prison remains, despite its insalubrious history, one of the more impressive buildings on Portsea Island.

The imposing walls and stern exterior are surprisingly easy to warm to and are a welcome landmark on Milton Road – and a well-preserved reminder of our Victorian heritage.

So it is with concern that we learn that there are still no firm plans about what to do with the building, almost six months after the doors closed for the final time.

The Ministry of Justice hides behind a bland statement, saying that it is looking at several options, but that nothing has been decided yet.

More pertinently, it will not confirm what Cllr Luke Stubbs has heard, that Kingston may be reopened if prison numbers go up in the future.

And it is this possibility that worries us, for several reasons.

Firstly, it leads to the likelihood that Kingston will be left empty for a long time, and used as a politically-handy bolthole should the need arise to announce more prison places – a situation that does nothing for Portsmouth.

Secondly, the longer it is left empty, the more it will cost to maintain.

And lastly, the standards at the prison will hardly improve the longer Kingston is mothballed. It is not right that prisoners are treated to second-rate accommodation – pop-up shops and restaurants may have become fashionable in the last couple of years, but pop-up prisons are a different matter altogether.

There are examples around the country where former prisons have been converted to other uses to great effect – the Oxford Gaol now boasts a hotel, restaurant and shops, although is blessed by a central location.

Kingston is probably too far from the middle of Portsmouth to be a similar project, and surrounded by too many houses to work.

But we should not just sit around while Whitehall deliberates about what to do with such an important building. If it is to be converted to housing, then so be it.

But let us know sooner rather than later please, as doing nothing is frankly criminal.