Government abandons Westbury as preferred northern prison site
By Patrick Gee
18 June 2020
The government has abandoned its preferred site for the Northern Regional Prison and revealed a new location in a highly anticipated announcement following community backlash.
But the Greens and anti-Westbury prison group WRAP say the government has repeated past errors by "bumping" the prison down the road without community consultation.
Premier Peter Gutwein and Corrections Minister Elise Archer yesterday released the findings of a social and economic impact study on the development of a 275-bed maximum security prison 2km from the centre of Westbury.
It indicated that 42.7 per cent of respondents to a phone survey and 45.4 per cent of respondents to a mail-out survey would be more supportive of a prison if their concerns were met. One of their main concerns was the location, and many indicated they would prefer the prison to be further from the town centre.
Ms Archer said the government had "listened carefully" to the Westbury community and local businesses.
The new location is a 70ha lot of disused Crown land at Bushy Rivulet near Birralee, 5.2km from the Westbury town centre.
Preliminary analysis of the site has been undertaken and Ms Archer said the government had "every intention" of building there.
"We will now undertake further due diligence of this new site over coming weeks, including talking to local landholders," she said.
Mr Gutwein said COVID-19 had delayed the government's announcement on the preferred site, having received the completed study on May 29.
"We are going to build a prison," he said.
"It's important, both from the construction task and the jobs that it will create, and the economic benefit it will deliver.
"It's also important we provide a better service here in the North ... ensuring that we can keep families closer to those who are incarcerated."
Mr Gutwein said the prison "investment" would be important to the state's COVID-19 recovery, delivering more than 1000 jobs through the construction phase and ongoing employment, and an economic boost of more than $500 million.
The prison will be built in stages, and the government expects the first inmates to move in by mid-2025.
The land is currently zoned "rural resource" and would need to be rezoned before the government could submit a development application to the Meander Valley Council.
WRAP held a committee meeting yesterday, and president Linda Poulton told the Mercury the government's decision was not viewed as an "outright victory" but was a "bit like Groundhog Day".
"It's almost a repeat of the 30th of September last year, and that's clearly distressing for some people," she said.
Ms Poulton said the fact that the prison would not be seen from the highway was a win, but residents did not expect social concerns and impact to property value to be "alleviated that much".
"It is still quite close to the town," she said.
"It may well make some people feel more comfortable, but I can't say that right now.
"If this site has been in consideration for some time, which it must have been for this announcement to have been made today, why haven't we been spoken to about it, and why haven't they asked people about it?"
Greens leader Cassy O'Connor said there were mixed feelings in the community: "This is a community that nine months ago was thrown into complete distress by a government decision to plonk a prison on the town's border without any consultation," Ms O'Connor said.
"People don't feel that they've really been heard, and they are worried that having a prison just down the road will have many of the same concerns associated with it.
"Not everyone's seeing it as a win."