A quaint Essex village could have two new prisons built on the site of a disused airfield.
The Ministry of Justice is proposing to build two huge prisons holding more than 3,400 inmates at the Wethersfield air base just north of Braintree.
The site will hold category B and category C adult male prisoners in two prisons that each have a total capacity of 1,715, according to documents setting out the plans.
But local campaigners, Stop Wethersfield Airfield Prison (SWAP), say there would be a serious impact on the wildlife in the area if plans came to fruition.
The group, led by Alan MacKenzie, want to demonstrate the alternative options that the land could be used for.
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Alan said: “There are alternatives to putting a major development in the middle of glorious countryside, which will be for the benefit of Essex residents and people in the country as a whole.”
The group is promoting rewilding, which is a process where nature is allowed to manage itself, without being curated or controlled by human intervention.
A neighbouring farm to the airfield is about to be rewilded, which the group argues could provide a template and model for the land of the airfield to follow.
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According to Alan, various studies by the MOD themselves have found “an amazing number of birds and insects and flora which are rare.”
Alan added: “There should be consideration over and above everything else about saving the habitat of a whole variety of species which are up there.”
The group is already imagining what they want to see on the site instead of the prisons.
Alan said: “We’re looking at having walks – there used to be a number of public rights of way up there which could be re-established.
“A nature reserve, a Discovery Centre, things which are sympathetic to not just the airfield itself but its surroundings which can benefit everybody.”
The main runway at the airfield is made up of a huge amount of concrete which will have to be broken up and either removed from the site or reused in the building of the prisons.
“The impact is going to be absolutely huge in disturbing the ground nesting birds”, another SWAP member said.
“The dust is going to affect all the plants.
“The other thing is the light pollution when the prisons are built, which will disturb a lot of the nightlife that’s there.”
The group are fighting to protect not only the wildlife of the site, but also the opportunity for the people of Essex to have access to the green space on their doorstep.
On December 13, the group attended Braintree District Council’s full council meeting , where Rosie Pearson, a member of SWAP, argued that the MoJ’s public consultation was not fit for purpose.
Rosie said at the meeting: “This consultation also breaches principle 2, of the Gunning Principles, recognised in case law that requires sufficient information for consultees to give an intelligent consideration and to provide an informed response.
“In fact, there was so little information available that it was impossible to submit a considered response.
“Much relevant data, such as traffic modelling, is available for other prisons – that should have been made available in the consultation.”
In response, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We want to work closely with Braintree residents before submitting a planning application, which is why we consulted widely and held online and in person information sessions.
“We are now considering the responses and Braintree District Council will hold its own consultation if a planning application is submitted.”
In a statement published on Braintree District Council’s website the next day (December 14), it was emphasised that the council had not decided on whether it ‘supports’ the proposed prisons or not.
Any alternative uses for the Wethersfield site are also a matter for the Ministry of Defence as the owners of the site, not the council.
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