The North Wales Regional Leadership Board, representing Leaders from the six North Wales Councils, the Police and Crime Commissioner, the North Wales Police, The North Wales Fire and Rescue Authority and the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board welcomed the announcement of Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling to consider building a prison in North Wales.
Councillor Neil Rogers, Leader of Wrexham Borough Council said, “The Justice Secretary’s announcement is a big opportunity for North Wales. However, there will be competition for the location of a prison from other regions. It is essential that we have no pre-conceptions about a site and work closely with the Ministry of Justice to understand their needs. It is early days and the public must understand that it is far too early to speculate about specific sites as we have yet to discuss the requirements of the Ministry of Justice which will drive site criteria.”
Councillor Dyfed Edwards, Leader of Gwynedd Council said, “I am excited by the prospect of securing a prison in North Wales. We need the investment and the jobs but we also need to have a prison where the Welsh Language Act applies so that Welsh culture can be recognised in the prison system. A prison in North Wales will be closer to home. Better access for family and professional support workers to prisoners from North Wales will result in reduced re-offending and safer communities on offender release. There is a strong public service efficiency argument for a prison in North Wales.”
Councillor Hugh Evans, Leader of Denbighshire County Council said, “The Board has been lobbying for a prison in North Wales for over 5 years. It is great news that we are on the shortlist of regions to be considered for a new prison.”
“Representatives of the Board met the Prisons Minister with the Wales Office in October last year and presented a case for locating a prison in North Wales. I believe our efforts have put us in contention for a substantial investment in our region that could create over a thousand jobs and provide a major £50m per annum boost to the whole economy of North Wales.”
The Board agreed that:
- The size of the prison proposed by the Ministry of Justice means that it must serve both North Wales and parts of England (the North West, West Midlands).
- The North Wales Police will produce a business case quantifying the potential benefits to community safety from reduced re-offending in North Wales should a prison be located in North Wales.
- Representatives of the Board will meet with Ministry of Justice officials to establish their thinking with regard to the timescale and the specification for building the new prison. The requirements of the Ministry of Justice will drive the location and specific site criteria.
- Each local authority in North Wales will be asked to welcome the announcement of the Ministry of Justice and receive a report of the actions being taken by the North Wales Regional Leadership Board.
Last week North Wales Regional AM and Shadow Minister for North Wales, Mark Isherwood, raised the matter with the Minister for Business.
He said “Although it is reported that a prison in north Wales could create 1,000 jobs, and the Wrexham Business Professionals group, for example, said that it could bring much-needed social and economic benefits to the region, opponents -and there are always opponents to everything – claim that many of the jobs would be imported from prisons elsewhere, and that factories on the Wrexham industrial estate, if it went there, would be driven away. What discussions can you or will you have with the UK Government to establish the true costs and benefits so that, in ensuring public engagement, we are dealing with the facts, the real benefits, and the true economic gain.”
The Minister told Mr Isherwood that there are plenty of sites in north Wales that are suitable for the development of a prison and assured him that no businesses would have to vacate their sites to accommodate it.
Speaking in the Chamber Mr Isherwood also questioned the First Minister over the prison proposals, asking what role the Welsh Government is playing in assessing the feasibility of proposed North Wales sites, particularly given that, in 2009, the Caernarfon site was cancelled on the basis that it was no longer considered feasible for the proposed provision.
The First Minister said the Welsh Government are working with the Ministry Of Justice in terms of what sites it is looking to identify.
He said “It is important that a site in the north of Wales is identified as a site for a prison. As part of that work, examining the potential sites will be important to ensure that the prison goes ahead.”