A former prison in Reading, which campaigners want to turn into a theatre space, has been sold to an unannounced bidder.
Campaign group Theatre and Arts Reading had hoped to work with Reading Borough Council to turn the site into an arts hub with a 1,450-seat theatre and a smaller 450-seat space.
However the council’s bid to buy Reading Prison, formerly known as Reading Gaol, from the Ministry of Justice was rejected. The ministry is yet to announce the buyer.
Jason Brock, leader of Reading Borough Council, said: “The council’s bid rightly focused on the historical and cultural value of the Reading Prison site and it was dependent on securing significant external funds to manage the risk of taking ownership of this historic property. We are naturally disappointed that the MoJ has rejected the council’s bid.”
Brock said that the purchase of the prison comes with “significant planning parameters” designed to protect the historical, archaeological and cultural value of the site if any redevelopment is to take place.
He added: “I intend to meet with the successful bidder at the earliest opportunity to impress this upon them and want to work closely with them to ensure the historical and cultural value of Reading Prison is given prominence as plans are developed.”
Chair of Theatre and Arts Reading Melvin Benn said: “It is staggeringly disappointing to us that Reading Borough Council was not successful in its bid, which we fully supported.
“We therefore hope we are able to work with the successful bidders in the future and, like RBC, we strongly believe that any development should be heritage-driven but arts also.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said: “We are unable to comment at the moment. An announcement on the successful bidder will be made in due course.”