Houses would be the wrong choice for Haslar site

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It’s reassuring that the Ministry of Justice replied to an inquiry from The News about the former Haslar immigration removal centre talking about a decision on ‘when’ it would reopen as a prison, not whether it would reopen.

But circumstances – and indeed governments – change, and not all statements that come out of Whitehall can be trusted fully.

And that’s why we share Gosport council leader Mark Hook’s apprehension that the site could be sold off for housing.

After all, it’s government land, and the government is known to be disposing of its assets to help claw back the deficit, while wanting to encourage housebuilding all over the country.

But that would be the wrong path for the Haslar site, and this is why.

Gosport – though not immune to the national housing shortage – has a much more pressing problem with a shortage of jobs. Anyone who has experienced the A32 at rush-hour, knows that thousands of people head out of town to reach employment.

The impending development of the former Daedalus airfield will help matters, and we hope there will be a snowball effect as companies moving in will attract others, but there is still plenty to be done to reduce ‘out-commuting’, as some call it.

Haslar provided jobs albeit, as a detention centre, not many. Were it to be housing, we would have hundreds more people moving in and fewer jobs in the town.

Were it to be turned into a industrial or business site, there would be a much bigger benefit to the area.

So while we take no issue with anything that Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage has said – about needing a value-for-money prison service, about succeeding in the rehabilitation of offenders and about a right decision, not a hasty one – we hope that there is no sell-off on the horizon.

And to ease Cllr Hook’s justified fears, it would be good to have some further indication from the MoJ about Haslar’s future. Because there are plenty of better things that can be done to a site of that nature than just leaving it in mothballs.