Justice minister says construction work may start in 2010 on the first of three massive new prisons

Construction of the government's proposed titan prisons could begin as early as next year, according to justice minister David Hanson.

The MP, who has been a champion of the titan programme since it was first mooted in 2007, said the first of the three planned jails could be under construction by late 2010.

In response to a parliamentary question, Hanson said: “We plan to open the first prison cluster on a phased basis from December 2012. Construction will commence around two years prior to this.”

The titan prisons, which if built will each hold 2,500 inmates, are intended to ease overcrowding in the jail system.

They have met with wide opposition from penal lobby groups, who say such large institutions will lead to a drop in standards of care for prisoners.

In a report out last month, chief inspector of prisons Anne Owers reiterated her opposition to the scheme, saying wardens in large prisons were more likely to use force to control inmates.