Campaign To Save The Old Prison & Rural Heritage Collection

An overwhelming 1200 people who live in our district, or love the Cotswolds, signed the petition asking for time (up to December 31st 2012) for a rescue plan and a re-think on the fate of the Old Prison site, and the nationally important rural collections in CDC care.

On February 28th, at 10 am, at the Council Chamber, Trinity Road, Cirencester, GL7 1PX , all 44 councillors of Cotswold District Council will have the chance to debate whether to give the time, and encourage a rescue package.

Please come to CDC at Cirencester on 28 February and back the call for more time and to favour a rescue. Pulhams’ Coaches are providing coaches to go to CDC, picking up at the Old Prison at 9.10 a.m and the market square in Northleach at 9.20 a.m. First come first served and prompt departure.

Support the call to CDC to agree to give time for proper, open consultation on options for the site and the heritage artefacts. In the last few weeks a rescue plan has begun to develop that will give CDC some money. As well as caring for the fate of the heritage and getting the site thriving again, it will work closely with the community to benefit the area. A detailed vision for the site is being developed to carefully achieve community benefits and links to the needs of the Town. It needs time.

Please write urgently to the CDC and our 44 District Councillors

Please write from your own perspective about what matters to you. See the democracy section on the CDC page.

Make sure you write to your own District Councillor, and if possible copy to the portfolio holder, Cllr Barry Dare, and Cllr Lynden Stowe the Council and Conservative group leader, Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Paul Hodgkinson; and the CDC staff responsible for making recommendations. CDC Chief executive, David Neudegg, and Frank Wilson (Strategic Director of Resources) at CDC, Trinity Road, Cirencester, GL71PX.

Please send a copy of all correspondence to Cllr Chris Hancock ward councillor for Northleach local area. Great Union House, Market Place, Northleach GL54 3EJ.

Issues you might raise with Cotswold District Council

Community interests do matter
  • Best value can favour community benefits, heritage care and education. CDC does not have to choose the highest bidder- government rules allow it discretion for community and heritage benefits. Big Society, and CDC’s own policy is to let communities have a say about major public assets and how to get the best benefits for local people. The Localism bill comes in to force in April.
  • Ask CDC to give favourable status to the rescue bids that commit to well managed community benefits and keep the heritage in good heart and accessible to the public
  • What safeguards are in place for the House of Correction in future? Marketing this theme needs care, for example Little Dean is now a Museum Of Torture.
  • When it’s gone it’s gone- it’s at the Heart of the Cotswolds and a jewel in our heritage. Being on the cross roads of 2 major roads this place is very accessible to locals (on the main bus routes) why let it go?
  • The educational value is immense and so relevant to the curriculum today- our children study human rights, citizenship, history, environment and rural skills.
The Historic Building
  • The Old Prison has been in public hands over 220 years and is of international heritage importance. A rescue plan would see the grade 2 star listed building refurbished and preserved for future generations. It was built as a “House of Correction” in 1790; by a Gloucestershire philanthropist, Sir George Onesiphorus Paul, horrified at conditions in Gloucester gaol. It was groundbreaking and innovative in its day and influenced design and conditions in over 23 other prisons not just in England but in the Commonwealth and USA too.
  • Public access is so vital and must be guaranteed in future- some cells and the court room are still visible today and records of the treadmill and rations, bring alive the way justice and punishment were dealt with in hard times of the rural past. A rich archive of documents is associated with the House of Correction early years. Later, a national scandal in the 1840s was widely reported with a Royal investigation and articles in the Times including letters associated with Charles Dickens. All the bound court session reports are still part of the records in CDC care
Home for rural heritage collections
  • CDC got the site for free with the obligation to care for and showcase the nationally important LLoyd Baker Collection. The Treasury accepted the wonderful agricultural collection for the nation in lieu of death duties – it represents a life time of collecting items from rural life before mechanisation. With a big grant from GCC, CDC got the site for free. CDC signed up to all the legal obligations for the care of over 650 items, which have to be accessible to the public. These legal obligations on CDC will continue after the site is sold. Many items are fragile and at risk- the rescue plan would keep the collection on show, and on site.
  • The rural collections include many additional artefacts special to the local area and put into CDC care. Local families in Northleach area offered tools such as the wheel wrights working tools display still on site. These reflect many skills still essential for our buildings and landscape today. If the Old Prison is sold, what will happen to the thousands of items in addition to the Lloyd Baker collection?
Is CDC reputation on heritage at risk?
  • Waste Department! If the site is sold, is CDC really proposing to put all our fragile  heritage items under the waste department? What will be the cost of relocating and caring for the rural collections to meet Treasury obligations?
  • What message does this give about CDC as a safe pair of hands for our heritage and its reputation? Would anyone ever put anything of value in the hands of CDC?
  • Secrecy about artefacts at risk-? Is there a proper inventory? Are proper disposal procedures being followed in accordance with Museum best practice?
Democracy gap
  • There has been no public consultation about the sale of the Old Prison at Northleach. It’s not just important to Northleach- it affects our whole District, this is why an overwhelming 1200 people from the Cotswolds and beyond, signed the petition asking for time for a rescue package and a re-think. Let local people see the options and propose ways to ensure the best outcome for our area.
  • Secrecy All the cabinet, and full council meetings, about the Old Prison and the rural heritage collections have been held in secret closed sessions, binding all councillors to silence; and stopping tax payers knowing how decisions are made.
  • All papers about the Old prison and collections, put before councillors in July 2011 and cabinet in November 2010 were confidential and withheld from residents of our district. With the help of our MP and the Freedom of Information Act, the July 2011 papers that councillors had to base their decisions on, are now in the public domain in the public interest. The full set can be seen on the town website and Northleach
Town Council offices,
  • These papers show that the data and information before councillors did not consider the impacts on our area and town, and did not consider the obligations and commitments made to the Treasury and local families concerning the rural collections, and did not consider the effects on our tourism industry and educational importance of the heritage at the site. No conditions or restrictions were considered for the fate of the site, No proper plan was made for the rural heritage items currently on site, except for a proposal to put them in the care of the CDC waste department
Economy impact of “asset transfer” and closure
  • Tourism is a major industry for the whole District and sustaining footfall is vital. Tourists and people searching their ancestors find this site a great draw. The footfall of over 20,000 a year (mainly adults), when the rural collection museum was flourishing and properly managed to benefit the local area. The “Escape to the Cotswolds” exhibition has been open just 2 seasons- it encourages visitors to explore the local area and wider AONB and stay. This increases footfall to the town and local businesses across the area.
  • Avoid harm – we call for a proper costing of the impact of losing the Old Prison from public access and control. What will be the economic harm and benefits of each of the bids on our area, especially Northleach town? Should CDC consider imposing conditions and covenants?
  • What is CDC’s asset transfer policy- what site will they purchase with the money? Proceeds from any sale of public assets have to go to capital items not running costs. In July 2011 CDC decided it will use the money from the Old Prison site to purchase another property. At a time of near recession which part of the district will benefit from CDC investing- and why put Northleach at risk of harm? Why not let local people see the options and avoid harmful consequences?

Diana Ray