WRAP - No prison in Westbury
WRAP media release - 6 March 2020

State Government must confirm its commitment to the planning approval process for prison site

On 16th October 2019, the Minister for Corrections, Ms Elise Archer, made the following commitments in Parliament about the process which would be used to assess the State Government's proposal to put a prison at the preferred site on Birralee Road, Westbury and the likely timing of that process.

There will be two stages of the statutory assessment of the proposed northern regional prison. It is expected that these two processes may require up to two years to complete and will be subject to consultation. First, we have to rezone the site to allow a development application to be submitted. The preferred site is currently zoned as 'general industrial' and 'rural resource'. Neither of these zones provide for the development of a custodial facility, so the site would need to be rezoned amending the Meander Valley Interim Planning Scheme to introduce a particular purpose zone specifically for the prison and associated uses.

I am talking here of community consultation, which my amendment refers to. Such a scheme amendment must be initiated by the Meander Valley Council, which would exhibit the amendment for public representation for 28 days and then compile a report to the independent Tasmanian Planning Commission. The commission must conduct an assessment of the proposed amendment and invite anyone who made a submission to a hearing. The commission is bound to consider the amendment against the criteria in the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act 1993, including consistency with the relevant regional land use strategy and state policies. The amendment may seek to make a future development permitted or discretionary and the commission will determine what is appropriate. The commission's decision is final and there is no power for the minister to intervene. [Hansard 16 October 2019]

Minister Archer reiterated this commitment to the Meander Valley Gazette on 12th November 2020, when she rejected a suggestion from Tania Rattray MLC that the proposed prison be formally declared a Project of Regional Significance.

"The Government has been very clear from the outset that this project should go through standard council planning (and related consultation) processes and we remain strongly of that view".

This week, the Premier announced his government's intention place the Major Projects Bill 2020 before Parliament in May 2020. If this Bill passes into law, the Northern Correctional Centre is a development that could be taken up under its provisions.

We note that the government has pushed the date for the submission of its planning application for the prison at Westbury out until June 2020. We also see in yesterday's Mercury that the Federal Government has urged the State Government to fast track any developments on the horizon in an attempt to stimulate the economy.

"Because of these developments, WRAP’s members have understandably raised concerns with me about whether the Government is attempting to introduce the Major Projects Bill 2020 in order to have the assessment of the project fast tracked under that legislation, should it pass into law" said Linda Poulton.

If the government took this course, the community's rights to participate in the planning process, which they have been promised by the Minister, would essentially evaporate. Not only would we not have been consulted prior to the announcement of Westbury as the preferred site, we would now be robbed of the opportunity promised to us by the Minister in October last year to fully participate in the planning process".

"I have tried to assure WRAP's members that a project of such significance would not be fast tracked through the system and the Minister's commitment made last year is one that she will stand by. This is what the community expects and I have today written to ask Minister Archer to confirm that this is the case."

"The planning process which has been promised, involving assessment of the project firstly by the Meander Valley Council and secondly by the Tasmanian Planning Commission, represents the appropriate degree of independent scrutiny of the project and allows the community to fully participate in the planning process. Such a process will, to some degree, compensate for the lack of natural justice shown to our community before the announcement was made. This is the process that the Minister has previously committed to and we are confident that she will not walk away from that".

Linda Poulton
President, WRAP Inc
Westbury