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Canterbury Christ Church University buying Canterbury Prison site in Longport for student accommodation

By Lowri Stafford

Canterbury Christ Church University is buying HMP Canterbury, with plans to turn the disused jail into student accommodation.

Until now, university bosses had remained tight-lipped about plans for the site, despite admitting they were interested in taking it over.

Now vice-chancellor Professor Rama Thirunamachandran has confirmed in a staff memo the university is in the process of buying the site.

The entrance to HMP Canterbury
The entrance to HMP Canterbury

He said: "Given the proximity of the site, the university expressed an interest at an early stage and submitted its bid at the end of January.

"We are delighted that the university's bid has now been recommended for approval."

He said some terms had already been agreed but negotiations were still ongoing to finalise the sale contract.

Professor Thirunamachandran said the prison presented a "unique strategic opportunity" to expand its campus in North Holmes Road and "provide first-class educational facilities".

The wings of the prison will be turned into student flats
The wings of the prison will be turned into student flats

He added: "Opportunities like this do not come our way very often and we are very pleased that we have been successful in securing the site."

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.

It is not yet known if buildings will be refurbished or demolished to make way for new facilities.

The news was announced by university vice chancellor Professor Rama Thirunamachandran
The news was announced by university vice chancellor Professor Rama Thirunamachandran

Any plans will be restricted by some of the listed aspects of the 19th century prison, and the fact it is in a conservation area.

The extent to which the main block can be knocked down or altered will depend on a decision by English Heritage about whether further parts of the site should be listed.

Professor Thirunamachandran said: "We will, of course, need to be mindful that parts of the prison and prison wall may be subject to listing by English Heritage.

Historic Canterbury Prison will become student accommodation
Historic Canterbury Prison will become student accommodation

"However, the remaining elements of the site can be cleared for the future development of teaching, learning and other space."

One feature that must remain is the Grade-II listed stone gateway at the entrance, which is inscribed with the words “County Gaol and House of Correction”.

The original 1806 prison wall must also be kept in place, but can be lowered and removed in places if planning permission is granted.

Professor Thirunamachandran added: "As the detailed negotiations continue, we will make sure staff and students are kept informed of the progress and we hope to be able to share more information with you in the near future."

The prison cells will be turned into rooms for students
The prison cells will be turned into rooms for students

Last week, it was revealed Canterbury Christ Church was in talks with estate agents employed by the Ministry of Justice to sell the prison, which closed down last January.

The university was one of four groups to put in offers for the two-hectare site in Longport, but it is not known what the winning bid was.

Agents Jones Lang LaSalle said it provided “a rare opportunity to create premium development in an exceptional location, subject to the necessary consents”.

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.

The final sale contracts are expected to be signed before the end of next month.

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