Justice secretary Michael Gove has abandoned a flagship policy of his predecessor Chris Grayling by scrapping plans to build a giant prison for young offenders.

The 320-bed ‘Secure College’ at Glen Parva in Leicestershire was expected to hold about a quarter of the youth custody population of England and Wales. But in a written parliamentary answer, justice minister Andrew Selous today confirmed the plan has been dropped.   

He said: ‘The youth custody population has fallen from 1,349 in January 2013 to 999 in April 2015, a fall of 26%. A Secure College could have been desirable with a larger population, but it would not be right to house one third of the entire youth offender population in one setting. It would also be a mistake to press ahead with such a development when resources are so tight.’

Some £5.6m had already been spent on the cancelled project.

The ‘Secure College’ scheme, which attracted strong opposition, was unveiled at the beginning of last year by Grayling and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. ‘Nearly three-quarters of young offenders who leave custody reoffend within a year. Clearly the system as it is at the moment isn’t working,’ Grayling said at the time.

Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the Howard League for Penal Reform, welcomed the u-turn: 'This a hugely welcome statement from the Ministry of Justice, after a long campaign by the Howard League and other charities against the secure college proposals.

'As Lord Ramsbotham and many other peers raised when these proposals were debated in the Lords, building a super-sized child prison and expecting it to reinvent custody with a dash of education was always misguided.’

In recent days Gove has demonstrated an apparent willingness to be flexible when challenged on the justice policies of his predecessor. Earlier this month he agreed to waive new court fees for cases involving asbestos-related disease, in what has been hailed as a landmark decision for claimants.

He has also loosened a controversial restriction preventing some victims of domestic abuse from accessing legal aid.