A history of selling an ancient prison in Shepton Mallet

January 2013:

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced that Shepton Mallet would be one of seven prisons that would be closed in a bid to save £63 million a year in running costs across the six prisons.

The proposed super prisons would be around 25% bigger than Britain’s existing largest facility and a feasibility study into its construction is to begin. The super prisons would be in London, north-west England or north Wales.

The prisons that are to close are Bullwood Hall in Essex, Canterbury, Gloucester, Kingston in Portsmouth, Shrewsbury, and Camp Hill on the Isle of Wight. The UK’s oldest working prison, Shepton Mallet, in Somerset, is also among those to be shut.

Government planning guidance for historic buildings states that the optimum viable use isn’t necessarily the most profitable one. It is the one that is best for the conservation of the asset.

March 2013

Shepton Mallet prison decommissioned end of March 2013.

JLL were instructed to prepare an initial Planning and Marketing report for the Ministry of Justice. The report outlined the planning context and highlighted in particular the fact that a large part of the prison was listed and that parts of the prison were located within a Conservation Area.

A range of disposal options were outlined from a sale subject to detailed planning and listed building consent through to an unconditional sale without planning. The Ministry of Justice confirmed their objective was to secure a sale of the former prisons including Shepton Mallet by no later than March 2015.

The advice JLL gave to the Ministry of Justice was to engage with Mendip District Council to discuss the principle of development and potential mix of uses that might be considered appropriate and at the same time to engage with English Heritage (now Historic England) in view of the building’s heritage status.

Summer 2013

Purcell prepared as part of their heritage assessment an ‘Options Appraisal’ document which considered a range of potential uses and mix of uses for the former prison buildings. This document was shared with Mendip District Council and English Heritage.

September 2013:

A commentary was prepared by JLL on the options identified within the Purcell Options Appraisal that should be discounted. This document was shared with Mendip District Council.

January 2014:

A response from English Heritage on the heritage assessment, statement of significance and use options study was received.

A draft Development Brief was prepared by JLL based on the engagement with both Mendip District Council and English Heritage and at that point JLL were advised by Mendip District Council that a Development Brief for the former prison site would require an extensive period of consultation and then formal adoption by Members.

In view of the objective identified at the outset by the Ministry of Justice to secure the sale of Former HMP Shepton Mallet by no later than March 2015; and having regard to the fact that a sale subject to planning on a former prison with a series of listed buildings was likely to take considerably longer than 12 months to conclude, the decision was taken by the Ministry of Justice to formally commence marketing the site in early 2014 with the objective of concluding a sale by March 2015.

Continuum Attractions/Continuum Group Ltd  who have developed over 100 world-class visitor attractions (including Oxford Castle Unlocked, The Real Mary Kings Close, Kent Life, York’s Chocolate Story, The Canterbury Tales and Coronation Street Tour) and have been operating for over 30 years, were encouraged by Gloucester City Council to view Gloucester Prison, but concluded that they anticipated there would be insufficient footfall at the Gloucester Prison site, despite the proximity of Gloucester Abbey and the Blackfriars Friary, to support a visitor attraction on any scale small or large.

The question was raised whether the company would be interested in viewing Shepton Mallet.  No specific research was done into the potential of Shepton Mallet Prison being a heritage attraction.

March 28th 2014

The date set for bids for the prison and in view of the engagement and guidance from English Heritage at the bid stage it was stated that the decision on the preferred purchaser for the former HMP Shepton Mallet would be made based on the parties financial capability to not just fund the purchase, but also to fund any work required to carry out the parties proposals for the site as well as the future running and on-going.

Particular attention will be paid to English Heritage ‘Guidance on Disposal of Heritage Assets’ in this regard.

August 1st 2014

Revised dates for bids following Dorchester prison becoming available.

September 2014

JLL reported all bids and prepared an analysis of the disposal options available to the Ministry of Justice which included information on whether any of the bidders had a track record of dealing with listed buildings/heritage assets and details of how the purchase and ongoing maintenance and repair of the property was to be funded.

The recommendation made by JLL together with all of the bids received was then discussed in detail with English Heritage at a meeting with the Ministry of Justice and JLL.

October 2014

Solicitors were instructed to proceed with the sale of a portfolio of 4 former prisons (Dorchester, Gloucester, Kingston and Shepton Mallet) to property developer City & Country. The decision was based on combination of the purchase price offered, the considerable track record of dealing with the purchase and development of heritage assets a number of which have been purchased from other public sector bodies and the financial capability to not only complete the purchase but also to maintain the heritage asset both prior to development and to secure its long term future. City & Country were known for building residential units.

The decision not to pursue the ‘community’ bid on Shepton was as a result of a number of factors in addition to the factors outlined above for accepting the City & Country including:

  • Funding of the proposals for the site as well as maintenance, repair and running costs was largely dependent on grant funding which was unconfirmed at the bid stage
  • The business plan provided in particular in relation to the visitor attraction and projected visitor numbers, based on the feedback from Continuum Attractions/Continuum Group Ltd
  • The proposals for the site included uses such as hotel and restaurant but there was no confirmed end user interest in these facilities and in fact the bidder was proposing that the Charity would run them rather than an operator with experience in running similar facilities
  • The bidder had no track record of dealing with heritage assets on even a small scale and certainly not on the scale of the former prison.

The Ministry of Justice were keen to identify a purchaser of the site who would take on the responsibility for running the site as soon as possible (an annual cost of approximately £200,000); who has a track record of dealing with the purchase and development of heritage assets; understands the constraints imposed by listed buildings and has the financial and other resources to ensure that the heritage assets are maintained and where required repaired in the short term as well as identifying a sustainable long term future use for the site.

November 2014

Local campaigner starts petition: MOJ Safeguard Shepton Mallet Prison’s future – consult with the community before you make a decision on this historic site. Just under 300 supporters.

Campaign is featured on BBC Radio Somerset, Breeze FM and by the BBC online.

Campaign group established:

Creating a Vision and Future for Shepton Mallet Prison campaign group’s main aims are to preserve the prison’s 400 year heritage and the human stories for generations to come. They set up in order to facilitate a community voice in the decision making, following the prison’s closure in March 2013.

November 23rd, 2014

A response from the MOJ in response to call for a public consultation.

“Thank you for your email of 23 November 2014 to Will Loader about your online petition requesting public consultation before a decision is made on the future use of the former Shepton Mallet prison site. Will Loader has passed your email to me to reply.

Whilst there has been no formal consultation in the selection of the preferred bidder, considerable discussions have already taken place with the local authority, English Heritage and other interested parties. The future use of this site will be a matter for the new owner, but ultimately it will be the Local Planning Authority (LPA) and other statutory consultees who will establish the site’s future.

MoJ and our advisors have always made it clear to the Council and other interested parties that future plans for the former prison site would be subject to full public consultation as part of the Town & Country Planning Process. The LPA will be required to take into account the views of local and other interested people before making a decision.”

Yours sincerely

(signed by)

Anil Chainani

2015, February

City and Country meet campaign founder Claire Sully to understand the local perspective.

Helen Moore said: “The first part of the process is to thoroughly consult with the key stake holders and the local community to find out what aspirations there are for the site.”

The public via campaign facebook, the online petition and community group meetings confirmed they want mixed used for future use of the prison including:

  • A heritage attraction / museum
  • Space for community to use and hire
  • Sustainable business model – which could include housing or commercial use

Feb 19th, 2015

Public meeting was held at The Thatched Cottage by prison campaigners. Local groups to discuss their views on the future use of the prison. People that came along represented the following groups:

- A Shepton Carnival club
- Local history group
- Lantern Parade
- Shepton Gymnastics Club

Also present was a Governor from Whitstone School, local businesses and residents.

The workshop’s aim was to uncover what Shepton needs, beginning with a discussion on what the town would like to help it overcome its present challenges.

13 May 2015

Stage 1 Consultation Event held. One of the questions asked was:

“The design team are currently considering a wide variety of amenities and design options that may form part of the final regeneration plans for the Prison. Are there any specific ideas or features that you would like the team to include in their considerations at this early stage?” A range of use options was suggested.

25% of people suggested a museum/heritage centre.

The open day didn’t include a detail tour and understanding of the prison heritage features.

In excess of 600 local people and stakeholders attended the exhibition, and 201 forms were received ahead of the feedback deadline.

People were asked what aspects of the buildings’ landscape and setting they thought were crucial to be preserved or enhanced in any proposals.

Bearing in mind that this was the first time many of the people attending would have ever seen inside the prison walls, this a summary of the responses provided along with an indication of what will happen to these features during the redevelopment of the prison (as best we can interpret from the planning submission).

These statistics could be interpreted in one of two ways – no one cares what features will be retained or lost or no one knew anything about the prison at that time to make any sort of judgements.

The results of the consultation at Stage One are as follows:

- Main historic building/Victorian Structure – 26% : Retained & converted to apartments with some modifications.

- Walls – 15% : Retained with new opening inserted to provide pedestrian access. Large sections of wall obscured by mews blocks.

- Cells and internal layout – 15% : Seven cells retained for interpretation use (3 of which have already been knocked together by the Prison Service). Remaining cells combined to form apartments with modifications as required.

- Gatehouse and main gates – 13% : Gatehouse retained and opened to provide pedestrian access. Main gates removed but opening retained to provide vehicular and pedestrian access.

- Exercise yard/courtyard – 7% : Courtyard retained. Outside areas landscaped.

- All of it – 6% : Many elements removed as outlined elsewhere.

- Treadmill building – 3% : Building retained but converted to flats.

- As much as possible – 3% : Many elements removed as outlined elsewhere.

- Frontage, basic outline and roof structure – 3% : Retained.

- Roof Lantern – 2% : Retained.

- Archaeology of the site – 2% : Extent of archaeology to be determined through further investigation. Graves of some identifiable executed prisoners to be exhumed to make way for mews houses. Unknown number of additional bodies in, as yet, unknown locations.

- Chapel – 1% : Demolished.

- Governor’s house – 1% : Converted to apartments.

- Sports Hall – 1% : Converted to apartments.

- Artwork of Prisoners – 1% : Lost.

- Windows and metalwork -1% : Windows largely retained but some are to be modified with new glazing and new openings added. Some bars will be retained, some removed. Metalwork around site to be removed.

- Lower half of prison – 1% : Unclear what this referred to.

City & Country did not inform stakeholders of any significant heritage or historic information during this consultation.

14 July 2015

Stage 2 Consultation Event held. One of the questions asked was:

“Which of the potential site uses identified at the stage one consultation, do you consider most important to be included in a viable mix of uses for the site?”

A large majority of individuals selected that they would like to see the site used for a museum/heritage centre (25%), residential (17%) with a desire to also see part of the site used for art gallery/shops (16%).

Nearly 700 people attended the event and 129 feedback forms were received.

19 August 2015: The scheme was presented to the Mendip Conservation Advisory Panel.

19 November 2015: Stage 3 Consultation Event held. One of the questions was:

“We are proposing the use of the current visitor centre within D-wing as a potential café, communal and interpretative/museum space. Do you approve of this approach?”

There was much support (93%) for the use of the current visitor centre as a potential café, communal and interpretative/museum space.

A number of those that went on to complete the open comments section expressed the view that the prison is an important part of Shepton Mallet’s history and inclusion of a museum was vital to the regeneration of Shepton Mallet.

Five respondents felt that the museum space should be larger and/or incorporate a wing, while one person expressed disappointment that the plan did not include art/craft workshops.

In total 507 people attended and 58 feedback forms were received.

The scheme was presented to the Somerset and Devon Design Review Panel.

8 January 2016

A specific meeting took place with Historic England and Conservation Officers to discuss the conversion of the buildings.
19 and 20 January 2016: A series of meetings was held with the following groups:

• Shepton Mallet Town Council;
• Shepton Mallet District Councillor Group;
• Leader of Mendip District Council and Chief Executive
• Shepton Mallet Tourist Information.

February 16 2016

City & Country attended an Extra-Ordinary Meeting of Shepton Town Council to discuss the final scheme and provide an update on the museum/interpretative and café/communal space and the developed proposals for retaining the seven cells within B-wing.

At this meeting City and Country – Richard Winsborough and Graham Bloomfield – said they had “got the message loud and clear” that the town saw the conservation of the prison’s heritage as a priority.”

C&C also say they have a Plan B for parking. They mentioned that they may acquire land from the Cider Mill and will talk to Whitstone School. This was before the final decision to close the Cider Mill (and make wide-scale job loses) had been made. City & Country admitted that parking was their biggest risk and they had a backup plan to cover it.

Feb 20th, 2016

City and Country article in the Daily Mail – “Go straight to jail: Plushly renovated prisons make for secure, quirky homes with colourful histories”.  This PR story for City  & Country mentions that the process for conversion had begun before planning permission has been granted.

March 15th, 2016

City and Country submit plans to Mendip District Council for 146 homes and 150 parking places.

Campaigner Claire Sully said: “The consultation process was always focused on a residential solution, therefore the planning application is more or less as expected.

“We know there needs to be a viable financial model underpinning the future use of the prison, but a balance must be struck with preserving the history and heritage.

City & Country must follow through on their promise to allow parts of the prison to be used by local people for tours, for a museum that is more than just information boards and for local people to tell the story of this imposing and magnificent building with over 400 years of history.

It could be an important place for Shepton, attracting many visitors to the town, while helping bring about a wider heritage-led regeneration for the town.”

March 17th, 2016

HMP Shepton Mallet revamp sparks unmarked graves fear - is reported by the BBC and The Times.

March 23rd, 2016

A closed session (to councillors and other invited stakeholders) at the prison with City and Country who outlined their development proposal in more detail.  Following this there was a display of the plans for the general public to view.

March 30th, 2016

City & Country tell Shepton Mallet Journal

“The first residents could move into the Prison in two years and the whole project could be completed in 5 years.”

April 19th, 2016

Deadline for comments on the planning application is April 19th, 2016.

This is the legal minimum, we are expecting the planning application decision to be around June, 2017.

April 12th, 2016

ITV West broadcast story about the prison.

April 18th, 2016

City & Country  submit revised plans for their redevelopment of Dorchester Prison. The covering letter to their re-submission states:

“In summary, the changes to the scheme submitted herewith are a result of the applicant listening and responding to the Civic Society and Town Council, local stakeholders, residents and community groups”.

April 19th, 2016

City and Country told the BBC they are only going to preserve the “best” parts of Shepton Mallet Prison’s 400 year history.   To the question of preserving unique (albeit grim) heritage from when the American Army commandeered the prison during World War II, MD

Helen Moore says:

“Is that the best part of the history of this place to preserve, we think not”.

Professor Mark Horton, Historic Archaeologist and TV presenter, talks to the BBC about Shepton Mallet Prison.  He says Shepton Mallet Prison being one of “the most important ancient prisons in the country” and its history “should be respected”.  He added:

“Shepton Mallet Prison is a special place, it’s a very ancient prison, who would want to live in modern flats in this place?

Obviously there are some alternative uses that should be allowed, but it is a grade II listed building and I think it needs to have its history fully respected.

It tells us about British social history and British Peel history. It is one of our most important surviving monuments in Britain that can tell us that.”

He continues to talk about the bodies that could be buried under the prison.

“We know there is at least 7 recorded executions, There are probably dozens (even hundreds) of people buried there before records were taken”.

April, 2016

There is strong opposition to City and Countries plans via Mendip District Council’s consultation.  Example comments are as below:

Policy DP3 of the Local Plan indicates that proposals will be required to demonstrate an understanding of the significance of the Heritage Asset and its setting and justify any harm to it.

No justification has been provided for the loss of these 20th century heritage WW11 elements, other than an indication that they are of ‘Little Significance’.

The nature of the interpretation space to be provided has not been clarified. The Planning Statement indicates that the proposed café will provide a small visitors’ centre / museum / interpretation space facility. It is also understood that an interpretation space is to be provided within the site in seven retained cells, of which three have already been modified by the Prison Service.

Opposers to the plans say: “The site is overdeveloped. Residential units have been put into every available space: within the existing blocks and within the grounds.

Mews are proposed alongside the grade II listed walls. Two additional storeys have been added to the Workshop building. A row has been fitted in between the Workshop building and behind the existing dwellings on the Charlton Road.

This over-development compromises the overall value of the heritage asset and the setting of the listed buildings. It also has knock-on consequences for issues such as parking”.

Bats

Policy DP5 of the Local Plan states that “all development proposals must ensure the protection, conservation and, where possible, enhancement of internationally, nationally or locally designated natural habitat areas and species.”

A Preliminary Ecological Assessment and Bat Activity Survey report has been submitted. The report indicates that at the time of its writing, “The exact details of any proposed development are yet to be finalised…” (para. 1.6).

The report indicates that Building B2 (a cellblock) is considered likely to be “used as an occasional day roost or transitional roost” for bats (para. 4.9). Modifications to the roof of this building are proposed.

Based on the surveys carried out thus far, the report indicates that Building B9 (a garage adjacent to the Workshop building) contains “One serotine roost, considered to be an active feeding perch and day roost…and an occasional roost for brown long eared bats.” (para. 4.14). Building B9 is to be demolished.

It is not clear from the report whether the species present and nature of the roosts has been fully determined, or whether additional surveys may be required prior to determination of the planning application or any Licence application being made.

The report includes a number of recommendations for mitigation measures to be incorporated into the scheme, including provision of alternative roost features, bat boxes and sensitive lighting. With these measures in place the report concludes that the “re-development of the prison will not affect the favourable conservation status of bat species in the local area.” (para. 5.5).

Section 7 of the Design and Access Statement sets out the approach to lighting the site. This makes no reference to the requirement to accommodate bats on the site, indeed it is proposed to light the prison walls and trees within the site. There is also reference to enhancing off-site lighting.

There is no reference to alternative bat roosts or bat boxes. Having searched the Design and Access Statement, the only mention of bats is a reference to the survey report, not any of its recommendations.

Given that the proposals do not appear to include any of the survey report recommendations, it is not currently possible to conclude that “the prison will not affect the favourable conservation status of bat species in the local area.” A species-specific bat mitigation strategy needs to be prepared and submitted, with the measures incorporated into the plans.

This must be addressed before the application is determined. This is recognised by official guidance and is required by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010.

April 2016

Shepton Mallet Town Council approve the planning proposals before Mendip District Council’s consultation with local people has finished.  Meaning that Shepton Town Council would not have known local people’s concerns and could not have reflected them in their decision.

Victorian Society provide views on the City and Country’s proposals. They talk of a “harmful intervention” to the building’s heritage.

“The mews buildings around the south west perimeter of the site are a harmful intervention as proposed. Firstly, they should not be allowed to rise above the prison walls, which are reputedly the tallest of any prison in England. Building higher than them will detract from their magnitude and unnecessarily impact key views from both without and within the prison. This is the longest uninterrupted stretch of the wall and it would be unfortunate to allow new elements to veer above it when seen from the outside. In the same vein, concealing so much of the wall inside the prison is also undesirable in terms of preserving the significance of the heritage asset. The wall, which is Grade II listed in its own right, will be left barely visible; this will also have a negative effect on the setting of the Grade II* listed prison buildings. Mews buildings are traditionally two storeys high and this is an acceptable height in this context; omitting the mansard is an obvious way to reduce the harm inflicted. Secondly, new buildings should not abut the prison wall – it is not clear why this is necessary and it is likely to cause more problems than it will solve. A gap should be left in between so that the existing fabric is not interfered with; alternatively it might be worth exploring the idea of placing new dwellings at right angles to the wall, so that less of it will be hidden.”

May 2016

In submitting their comments on the planning application, County Highways conclude that the redevelopment of Shepton Mallet Prison into 146 flats “will not result in a severe impact on the highway network required by the NPPF to warrant an objection on highway grounds”. The level of parking proposed within the development is also “acceptable”. This is on the proviso that a Travel Plan is implemented along with various highway improvements.
The Housing Officer has agreed to no affordable housing provision on the site.

Somerset County Council is not abiding by its own rules for parking provision.

June 2016

Shepton Mallet prison development: Plans changed after feedback from Historic England

“The most significant change is the removal of the first floor link between the gatehouse and the administration block.

“Further to this we have submitted additional details to the internal Treadwheel House arrangements relating to the vaulted ceilings, roof trusses, undercroft cross-walls and the proposed entrance door.”

July 2016

The prison planning applications are going to be considered by the Mendip Planning Board on 20 July 2016, beginning at 6:00pm to be held in The Council Chamber, Cannards Grave Road, Shepton Mallet, BA4 5BT.

The agenda for the meeting, which includes the Officer’s report and the details of the officer recommendation for the applications.

July 20th 2016

Developer plans for Shepton Mallet prison have put their commercial “viability before the safety of local residents.”

This evening City & Country’s plans for Shepton Mallet Prison has taken a major set-back as Mendip District Council planning board refused to grant planning consent.

City & Country’s vision for an important Shepton Mallet heritage asset was focused on residential build with 146 flats (50 new build and 96 conversion). It was given a thumbs down by councillors along with those who packed out the Council Chamber.

One councillor said “I was hoping to be impressed and convinced, but I am not.”

Shepton Mallet Prison is a Grade 2* building with 400 years of fascinating history and has been described as one of the most important ancient prisons in the country.

Before it was closed in January 2013 by the Government to save money – along with 7 other prisons – it was the oldest working prison.

Annette Moon-McCann who lives next to the prison told councillors the proposed plans would render the area around the prison unsafe. The sticking point being that although City and Country are imagining 146 residential units not all apartments will have a parking space.

Councillors estimated that 50 to 100 spaces were lacking in City and Country’s plans. City and Country’s response is that people will recognise that if they buy an apartment in an interesting heritage site they will accept that they can’t park where they live and will take public transport.

Local residents said there simply isn’t anywhere for people to park around the prison, it is already congested and dangerous, while there wasn’t sufficient public transport to support City and Country’s claims.

3 Shepton Mallet ward councillors, John Parham, Bente Height and Jeanette Marsh spoke passionately against City and Country’s ideas.

Consultees to the planning proposals including Somerset County Council and Historic England were criticised. Councillor John Parham said:

“Reasons for City and Country’s parking approval by Somerset County Council were obtuse and beyond belief. They should be treated with the disdain they deserve. What is the point of guidelines if we don’t stick to them?”

Councillor Bente Height warned Mendip District Council planning board that children from local schools (one being next door to the prison) were at risk with the increased traffic and the responsibility for this could lie with the councillors’ decision this evening.

Councillor Dick Skidmore said “Shepton Prison is unique. We can’t do something we may regret in the future. The plans are not going to enhance the place. The consultees haven’t been helpful and the Ward Councillors have provided exceedingly good statements.”

As well as local residents and the Ward Councillors Ian Keys from Shepton Mallet Heritage Group spoke eloquently about the need to ensure a better balance with preserving heritage for local people and visitors to enjoy. Shepton Mallet Heritage Group have proposed alterations to City and Country proposals as part of a town-wide historic trail.

Planning permission was denied while building consent was granted during the deliberations, City & Country have been asked to re-think aspects especially around the parking and heritage.

December 2016

City and Country resubmit their plans for the prison, including an increase of parking spaces by 28 spaces.  Deadline for feedback is moved to January 2nd 2017 due to lack of awareness of the updated planing proposals.

January 5th, 2017

City and Country appeal against first planning application refusal. They believe the district council was wrong to question their parking levels of 0.75 space per household (up to 3 bedrooms).

The original planning application was for 146 homes and only 150 parking spaces, including visitor spaces. City and Country plans were based on people not needing cars.

Notice of the appeal was e-mailed as follows:

“I write to advise you that the Department of Communities and Local Government has received an appeal by City & Country Residential Ltd of Bentfield Place Bentfield Road, Stansted , Essex against the Council’s Refusal of Planning Permission at the above site.

The Secretary of State has decided that the appeal should be examined at an Informal Hearing.”

“If you wish to make comments, or modify/withdraw your previous representation, you can do so online at
https://acp.planninginspectorate.gov.uk. If you do not have access to the internet, you can send your comments to:
The Planning Inspectorate, Room 3/19A Eagle Wing, Temple Quay House, 2 The Square, Temple Quay, Bristol BS1 6PN quoting the appeal reference number”

City and Country are still continuing with their second planning application for 146 homes, consisting of 1, 2 and 3 bedrooms, a total of 178 parking places. An increase of 28 parking spaces.

[Details for this timeline have been taken from the planning documentation submitted by City &  Country, along with media and social media reports/info.   If you wish to add further details, please get in touch via this blog.]

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