Page last updated at 05:48 GMT, Friday, 15 August 2008 06:48 UK

Community opposed to Wrexham jail

FACTFILE - WREXHAM
The shortlisted site in Wrexham
LOCATION: Old Firestone Factory, Wrexham Industrial Estate
SITE: 108 acres; empty since 1992, but newts need relocating
PROPOSAL: Potential for a "Titan" jail for 2,500 inmates
SITE OWNERS: Welsh Assembly Government
ARGUMENTS FOR: Good-sized site; currently no prison in north Wales - easier travelling for families; employment
ARGUMENTS AGAINST: "Poor" transport links; too close to Liverpool prison and too far from Caernarfon court; new home needed for crested newts

The people of Pentre Maelor have lived in the shadow of Wrexham's Industrial Estate for years.

But while warehouses and factories have become a fact of daily life, the thought of a jail on the community's doorstep is too much to bear for many.

The 108-acre site has been shortlisted as a potential venue for Wales' new prison, along with three other sites in Merthyr Tydfil, Cwmbran and Caernarfon.

But many people living alongside the potential site are strongly opposed.

Ray Squire, chairman of Abenbury Community Council, which includes Pentre Maelor, said: "The people of Pentre Maelor are 100% opposed to it.

"In the past, they have put on demonstrations here. Woman and children lay in the road protesting over pollution from a local factory.

"And they're quite willing to go that far again."

Mr Squire said some residents had expressed concerns that the value of their homes could drop.

He added: "As a councillor I have to weigh up all the options. I understand that it will bring a lot of building work and employment to the area.

"But what about the type of people it will bring here, people visiting those locked up in prison?

Barbara Davies
Barbara Davies can see the potential site from her Pentre Maelor home

"This area is already targeted by criminals and chancers from Manchester and Liverpool.

"Personally, I'm against the proposal.

"Why go for Wrexham anyway? It's too far from the courts in Caernarfon, and there's no direct route to the prison - the bus service is atrocious."

The site, now owned by the Welsh Assembly Government, is best known as the former Firestone rubber factory site.

At 108 acres, it is the biggest of the four proposed sites, and has the potential for a "titan" prison, capable of holding 2,500 inmates.

The Ministry of Justice, which has invited comments on the proposed sites by 31 October, wants to provide an additional 1,000 prison places in Wales, increasing to around 1,700 in future years.

While the size of the plot might go in its favour, some environmental factors, including a population of great crested newts, might prove problematic.

But winning the hearts and minds of the local population and their politicians is likely to prove the ministry's biggest battle if it decides to press ahead with Wrexham.

Pentre Maelor
Pentre Maelor's residents are used to living close to industry

Local MP, Ian Lucas, believes it is the "wrong site for a north Wales prison for many reasons", including its distance from courts in Caernarfon.

He said the transport links were poor and other areas of Wales with higher unemployment rates would benefit more from the prison.

He also called on Wrexham council to state its position.

However, the council has refused to say whether it backs the prison or not, and has only just begun considering the implications for the area.

The town's AM, Lesley Griffiths, has been quicker to air her feelings, saying she can not support the Wrexham site because of the expense of transporting prisoners to and from Caernarfon.

In Pentre Maelor, feelings are already running strong.

Local resident Barbara Davies - who can see the proposed site from her lounge window - said: "I don't want it here.

Adenbury Community Centre
Cllr Squire said the people of Pentre Maelor are "100% opposed"

"You're the first person to come and ask what my feelings are - we've heard nothing from the council or anyone.

"Nobody seems to care what we think. Most people here don't want it. And I'm not sure I'd feel safe here anymore."

Scott McDermott, who has three children with his partner Stephanie Nilsson, said: "We're against it and so is everybody else.

"Other companies won't want to invest here either - this area is for industry."

His partner, Ms Nilsson, said: "We don't know what type of prison it's going to be. We don't want any sort, but the thought of an open prison across the road when I'm out with my children is awful."

Others though, are less concerned.

One woman, who did not want to be named, said: "I don't particularly want a prison here, but if they've made their minds up there's nothing we can do.

"As long as the prisoners are locked up and are well supervised, I can't see a problem. It will bring jobs at the end of the day."

Peter McCready, who lives a couple of miles from the site, said: "It doesn't bother me. It's better than having a dirty great factory.

"Presumably it will be secure, and it will benefit local people whose relatives all live in Manchester or Liverpool or Cardiff."




SEE ALSO
Location shortlist for new jail
06 Aug 08 |  North West Wales
'Vigorous debate' call on prison
21 Feb 08 |  North West Wales
Prison's 17m economy boost claim
07 Nov 07 |  North West Wales
Council adds to calls for prison
30 Oct 07 |  North West Wales

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