Closed petition Do not build two new prisons at Wethersfield Air Base

We believe the Government is reneging on commitments in the Environment Act to stop the decline of wildlife by proposing to develop two mega-prisons on the site of the old Wethersfield airfield, which has become an important space for nature near Braintree, Essex.

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Some 74 species of birds, many Red-listed, nest nearby and the area comprises 75,000 trees and shrubs. The site also includes ancient woodland, as well as Great Crested Newts and rare orchids. Red-listed birds on the site include European Turtle Dove, Northern Lapwing and Grey Partridge.

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Government responded

This response was given on 15 June 2022

The Government is undertaking the largest prison build programme in more than a century, one of the sites being considered is Wethersfield Air Base, a planning application has not yet been submitted.

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The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is considering the site at Wethersfield for new prisons as part of the MoJs New Prison Programme. The proposal is for one Category B training prison and one Category C resettlement prison to accommodate around 1,700 prisoners each. The MoJ has not yet decided whether to submit a planning application.

The proposed prisons, if built, would be the greenest prisons built so far and follow a new design that helps aid rehabilitation of offenders, helping make our communities safer. The new prisons would also create over 1,200 permanent jobs in the local area once the prisons were operational and hundreds of local jobs during construction.

The MoJ ran a pre-planning public consultation to seek feedback from the local community on these proposals in the Braintree District. The consultation ran from 27 September until 8 November with face to face consultation sessions on the 14 and 15 October. Residents were able to have their say by submitting comments online, over the phone or by post. We appreciate the feedback received and had around 1,800 responses.

The MoJ are currently deciding whether to proceed to submitting a planning application for new prisons on the Wethersfield site and taking time to consider the information received from the public consultation, stakeholder engagement and the results of ecological surveys on the site.

The MoJ are committed to adhering to the Environment Act and have followed due process by engaging ecologists to conduct relevant surveys and provide the necessary advice on mitigation action required to offset the impact of the proposed development. A Preliminary Ecological Appraisal, reptile survey, and dormouse survey were conducted in 2020. A Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), great crested newt surveys, invasive non-native species survey, and an updated Phase 1 habitat survey were conducted in 2021. A Wintering Bird Survey was conducted in winter 2021/2022. A bat Preliminary Roost Assessment (PRA) has been conducted in 2022, and the following surveys are ongoing: bat activity surveys, bat roost surveys of buildings, invertebrate surveys, and a botanical survey.

The findings of these surveys have guided, and would continue to guide, the formulation of an appropriate mitigation response to the impacts of the proposed development. An ecology chapter would form part of the Environmental Statement for the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) if a planning application is submitted.

To mitigate the ecological impact of building on this site, prison landscaping would use native planting and seed mixes as far as possible.

The loss of any trees, scrub, and buildings would be mitigated/compensated. Brown hares use the site, and appropriate mitigation/compensation would be provided. Great crested newt impacts are limited to habitats on land (no ponds would be lost), and we propose following the District Level Licensing route with Natural England, to offset any impacts.

The invertebrate surveys target a wide range of rare and notable species, including priority species. We are confident that the needs of any priority species can be accommodated within the habitat provisions envisaged.

The MOJ is committed to Environment Act and to the protection of wildlife. The MoJ currently operates a number of prisons in Sites of Special Scientific interest (SSSI’s) and on sites with protected species of birds and other wildlife. Any proposals put forward for Planning Permission would have a commitment to protect the wildlife on the site and to mitigate the impact of the proposed development.

Ministry of Justice