Braintree District Council sets out its position over Wethersfield prison proposals

Braintree District Council has set out its position as the local planning authority on the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) proposals to build two new prisons at the Wethersfield airfield site.

Braintree District Council has set out its position as the local planning authority on the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) proposals to build two new prisons at the Wethersfield airfield site owned by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

At its meeting of Full Council yesterday (Monday 13 December), Cllr Graham Butland, Leader of Braintree District Council, responded to questions from the public on the MOJ’s proposals following an MoJ consultation that concluded last month.

No decisions have yet been made by the MoJ on their prison proposals, and Braintree District Council has not yet received a formal planning application proposal from the MoJ.

Cllr Butland made it clear at the Full Council meeting that Braintree District Council has not come to a decision on whether it ‘supports’ the proposed prison or not, and given the Councils potential role in any future planning application coming forward, will not have a view until that planning process has been concluded. Cllr Butland also made it clear that any alternative uses for the Wethersfield site would be a matter for the MoD as owners of the site and not Braintree District Council.

Cllr Graham Butland, Leader of Braintree District Council, said: “There has been a lot of interest from residents and communities across the district on the MoJ’s proposals which is why I have taken the opportunity to confirm the Council’s current position. It’s important to note that Braintree District Council has not yet received a formal planning application for the proposals, and given its potential role in any future application coming forward, will not have a view on whether it ‘supports’ the proposed prison or not until that planning process is concluded. 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. We will keep residents updated if and when we learn more about the next stage of the process from the MoJ.”

Braintree District Council responded to a direct request from the MoJ in 2016, which was also sent to various other local authorities across the country, to consider whether there were any sites in the Braintree District which met a set of criteria provided by them that could be suitable for use as a prison. In Braintree District Council’s response, it highlighted various issues related to the Wethersfield site, including a lack of public transport to the area and the fact that it is only accessible via B-roads.

At the end of March 2016, the airfield site in Wethersfield was announced by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which is land owned by them, as a site to provide land for housing. In 2019, it was announced as included in a partnership between Homes England and the MoD, as a site that could be brought forward for development for housing. More recently, the MoJ conducted a public consultation to seek the views of residents and businesses on a proposal to develop two new prisons on the site.

Given the size and type of the proposed prisons, if a planning application is submitted then planning officers would write a detailed report on any proposals and provide a recommendation, to either approve or reject the application, to Braintree District Council’s Planning Committee. This report would be completed only after a period of public consultation on any planning application, the details of which would be advertised publicly and all associated papers published for public viewing.

The recommendations in the report to Planning Committee would be based on officer’s professional planning judgement, supplemented by any necessary external expert advice, as well as any responses received through a planning application consultation process. Any recommendation to approve would include any relevant mitigations, conditions and provisions that should be sought through a Section 106 agreement. This report would then be offered to Planning Committee who will make the final decision.

As with all planning applications, if the application is rejected, the applicant has the opportunity to appeal the decision to the Planning Inspectorate who will make a final decision.

The Secretary of State Michael Gove also has the option to ‘call in’ any application to make the ultimate decision on the planning application, which would mean the process would take the decision making away from Braintree District Council as the Local Planning Authority, however Braintree District Council has not yet had any indication that this would be the case.

The role of elected councillors of Braintree District Council is to represent the views and interests of their constituents and Members will continue to represent the range of views on the proposals from their communities. Those Councillors that are members of the Council’s Planning Committee will not offer any opinions on the proposals in order to ensure they approach any relevant planning process with an open mind.

Letter from Ministry of Justice    

Letter response to Ministry of Justice

Published: 14th December 2021