Consultation launched on first of five proposed PFI prisons aimed at easing overcrowding in UK jails

The government has launched a consultation on the first of five proposed PFI prisons, on the site of the former Runwell hospital in Essex.

Public views will be sought on plans to build a 1,500-capacity jail as part of a wave of new facilities intended to cope with prison overcrowding in the UK.

In April, justice secretary Jack Straw scrapped plans for three Titan jails and said the government would instead build five smaller prisons. If given the green light, the first two will be on the site of the former Runwell Secure Psychiatric hospital in Essex and at Beam Park West in Dagenham.

It is expected that an outline planning application for the Runwell scheme will be submitted to Chelmsford Borough Council in January 2010.

Launching the consultation, justice minister Maria Eagle said: “The Ministry of Justice will be seeking outline planning permission for the new prison soon and we want to hear local views and discuss upcoming issues around the proposed development.”

The MoJ is in the process of putting together a framework of up to seven private sector consortiums that can bid to build and run each of the five prisons.

Law firm Eversheds is advising the department on the procurement framework for the PFI programme as well as the scheme at Runwell.