Lock them up by all means, but not in my back water

It cost more than pounds 4m of tax-payers' money, can house about 500 criminals, and was the answer to prison officials' prayers.

But yesterday plans for a floating jail to be moored off the Dorset coast were in disarray after the local council refused planning permission for the scheme. The Prison Service now faces being left stranded with the vessel.

Prison officials had intended to ship over their newly-acquired jail and berth it in Portland Harbour next month. They were so confident of getting planning permission that they were preparing yesterday to announce the vessel's new name and governor.

However, the members of the Portland and Weymouth Borough Council's Planning Committee had other ideas. Yester- day, they decided to object on the grounds of that it would be an eyesore and ruin the tourist industry.

The Prison Service is now left in the embarrassing position of having to find an alternative site for the ship - a task that has already begun.

But there are fears that it may fall victim to a new phenomenon - NIMBW - Not In My Back Water. Prison officials had banked on getting the floating jail in use by the beginning of April. They are also hoping to transform a former Pontin's holiday camp, near Morecambe Bay, Lancashire, into a make-shift prison, but that also depends on obtaining planning consent.

The extraordinary measures are being taken because of the record prison population, which has reached 57,600. Unless extra accommodation is found in the next few months costly police cells will almost certainly have to be used. As part of the emergency action, the Prison Service last week bought the Resolution, which is currently moored on the Hudson River, near New York City, for between pounds 4m and pounds 5m. Officials had planned to berth it for three years at Portland.

Roy Gainey, leader of Labour, the largest group on the council, said it would be "detrimental to the holiday industry of Weymouth and Portland ... locals are worried about the effect the ship will have and I see this being another nail in Weymouth's coffin."

The decision to oppose the application went against the recommendation of the borough's chief planning officer who said the 103 metre-long ship would hardly be visible in the port.

The decision will now go before a full council meeting today, where it is expected to be accepted. Under planning law, the Government does not need to seek such permission, but the Prison Service has repeatedly said it does not want to go against local opposition.

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