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Green councillors urge Lancaster prison closure rethink

John Freeman
Green councillors have reacted angrily to the announcement last week that Lancaster prison is to close.

The government announced that the Category C mens' prison at Lancaster Castle would close on cost grounds in March on Friday (see new story), although the final closure might come later in the year. Staff will be reallocated to nearby prisons and prisoners transferred.

But local councillor Chris Coates (pictured), who represents Castle Ward, says the closure makes no sense.

"Lancaster prison has been recognised for its high quality education and rehabilitation role," he argues, "and it makes a significant contribution to the local economy through direct employment and the purchases of goods and services.

"This latest blow to Lancaster by a Conservative-LibDem government that is oblivious to the scale of damage it is causing to local communities is totally unacceptable."

Some have welcomed the news, seeing the closure as an opportunity to make the Castle a key tourist attraction - but the costs could be considerable at a time when the County Council, which leases the buildings from the Duchy of Lancaster, is trying to save money after the government Spending Review.

"It's not just a matter of converting the prison areas into a tourist attraction," one local tourism  expert told virtual-lancaster. "The problem is, you can't just wheel out suits of armour from storage to redress the place because it's never been an 'ancestral home' like other castles."

virtual-lancaster understands that many of the recent improvements to prison facillities, such as its health care centre, has been built in a 'modular' way, apparently meaning it can easily be removed and relocated at another prison, so the costs of building it will not have been wasted.

One possible use for the Castle sans prison might be a key location for television and film companies, given the impending move of many BBC productions to Manchester's Media City, followed by other independent media companies.