Castle prison could become tourist attraction

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HMP LANCASTER Castle is set to close in March after being axed - but could become a tourist attraction with significant private investment, according to the city and county councils.

On Thursday, it was announced by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke, that three prisons, including Lancaster Castle, were to be shut, taking nearly 900 places out of the system.

Lancaster Castle, which employs 300 staff, currently houses the prison, Lancaster Crown Court, and operates small tours for visitors.

But the closure of the prison could enable the ancient castle to be developed into a major tourist attraction.

A joint statement from Lancaster City Council and Lancashire County Council said: “In 2006 the Lancaster and Morecambe Vision Board, of which both Lancaster City Council and Lancashire County Council and the private sector are members, launched a consultation on the vision for the future economic prosperity of the district.

“The vision produced as a result of this consultation recognises that Lancaster Castle has the potential to be transformed into a major tourist attraction which could attract significant complimentary private sector investment and that this would be a highly valued development for the historic city of Lancaster.

“Both councils continue to support this vision for Lancaster Castle.”

Closure was first mooted last year, with the Ministry of Justice arguing the prison was both outdated and costly and its closure would allow the castle to be opened up to visitors and tourists as a permanent attraction, but local MP Eric Ollerenshaw said there was “scepticism” about how the prison service will terminate its lease at the castle and how the major work needed to convert the jail into a visitor attraction would be funded.

Speaking in the Commons in October last year, Mr Ollerenshaw said he wanted to broker talks between the Duchy of Lancaster, which owns the castle, the Ministry of Justice, which leases it as a prison, Lancaster council and prison staff to work out a way forward.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said: “HMP Lancaster Castle will be closed by the end of March 2011.

“A range of options for staff at the establishments due to close are being developed, including redeployment to neighbouring establishments and voluntary exits.

“These options will be discussed individually with every member of staff at the establishments.

Lancaster Castle, which sits on land owned by the Duchy of Lancaster, has been a prison since the 17th century.