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Canterbury Christ Church University gets keys to Canterbury Prison in Longport with plans to turn it into student accommodation

By Lowri Stafford

The keys to HMP Canterbury have been handed over to Canterbury Christ Church University.

The prison in Longport will form part of the North Holmes Campus after the university officially took ownership of it this week.

The historic buildings, which closed last year as part of a Ministry of Justice shake-up, are expected to be turned into student accommodation.

Will Loader from the Ministry of Justice hands over the prison keys to university vice-chancellor Professor Rama Thirunamachandran

University chiefs will now carry out a consultation called a "master planning review" with students, staff and community groups, which is expected to last a year.

The university's vice-chancellor Professor Rama Thirunamachandran collected the keys from the Ministry of Justice's chief estates officer Will Loader.

Professor Thirunamachandran said: "We are delighted to have acquired the former Canterbury Prison site.

Historic Canterbury Prison closed last year

"Its location, adjacent to our North Holmes Campus, provides us with the unique opportunity to extend our current provisions.

"We will now take this opportunity to consider the current and future use of all of our sites through a Master Planning Review to ensure that we continue to provide our students and staff with first class facilities."

There had been speculation that the university was interested in taking over the prison since early this year, but bosses remained tight-lipped about their plans.

Historic Canterbury Prison will become student accommodation

It was not until February that Professor Thirunamachandran confirmed the university's intention to buy the site in a staff memo.

He said the prison presented a "unique strategic opportunity" to expand its campus and "provide first-class educational facilities".

Plans include transforming the listed prison quarter into "modern, high-quality city centre student accommodation," while university chiefs develop longer term plans for the rest of the site.

HMP Canterbury has been bought by Canterbury Christ Church University

The Ministry of Justice put the site up for sale after it closed down last January.

The university was one of four groups to put in offers for the two-hectare site in Longport.

Its winning bid was £7 million, but the uni could have to pay another £2 million if planning permission is granted to build student digs in the Victorian prison quarter.

The prison, which housed 400 inmates at its peak, includes three wings, a chapel, reception, education block, gymnasium, hospital, kitchen, library and workshops.

Criminals including the Kray twins, "Mad" Frankie Fraser and killers Michael Stone and Levi Bellfield were incarcerated there.

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