WRAP - No prison in Westbury

Westbury Residents Against the Prison vow to continue fight against Government's jail plan

By Patrick Gee
The Mercury
22 June 2020

The Government may have announced it will no longer pursue its northern prison at Westbury, but residents have vowed to continue the fight against the proposal for their region.

Westbury residents rallied at the town's Village Green on Monday pledging to continue their fight against a 275-bed prison being built in their area.

The State Government announced last week it would not build a $270 million Northern Regional Prison at its original preferred site 2km from the centre of Westbury.

Corrections Minister Elise Archer said the Government instead intended to build the prison on a 70ha parcel of Crown land 3.9km further away at Bushy Rivulet.

She said the move was a response to community feedback.

Community group Westbury Residents Against the Prison - formed to oppose the Government's original preferred prison site - on Monday declared it would oppose the new site too.

About 60 socially distanced prison protesters gathered at the Village Green to hear WRAP president Linda Poulton speak in response to last week's announcement.

"They've upset a whole lot of new people," one attendee called out.

"Sack our council," another said.

Ms Poulton said WRAP had been trying to gauge sentiment around the town of Westbury since the Government's announcement last week.

"Overwhelmingly, the response that we're getting from people who oppose the prison is: 'What has changed?'," she said.

"This is the strangest site selection process that I have ever witnessed."

"I think we're all very puzzled. There seems to be a very big fixation on Westbury."

"We know that there are many better sites out there for a project of this type."

Ms Poulton said the Government's new preferred site was priority habitat with Government signs on the gate identifying it as a "nature conservation area".

She said Meander Valley mayor Wayne Johnston "sadly" seemed delighted that the prison project would stay in the municipality.

"His support very much recalled memories of him standing by the minister nine months ago at the gate of the Glen Avon farm," she said.

Ms Poulton said that if council failed to consult the municipality on the prison, it would fail the community.

Labor MP Jen Butler attended Monday's gathering "listening to what the community has to say".

"This should have been a victory meeting today," she said.

"It's a bittersweet victory."

Ms Butler said early indications were that community sentiment had not changed since the new site was announced.

She said the accuracy and scope of surveys commissioned by the Government for its social and economic impact study for the development were questionable.

"[The Government] never really listened to the voices of Westbury anyway," she said.

"If they did from the start they would have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars and realised nine months ago that they got it wrong."

State Growth and Infrastructure Minister Michael Ferguson last week said: "There'd be some people in this state, that wouldn't support [a prison] anywhere."

"We are committed to a northern regional prison, it's an important investment, it's important for construction, it's important for Northern jobs and it's important for our justice system," he said.

"We've taken appropriate steps, we've listened to the community and at 5.2km outside the township of Westbury, it's a very sensible approach.

Mr Ferguson said the new site was a "win-win".


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