'Gobsmacked': neighbours hit out at new prison site at Brushy Rivulet
By Nick Clark
6 July 2020
The State Government announcement of a proposed new site for the $270 million Northern Regional Prison came as a shock to Brushy Rivulet couple Aaron and Olivia Reader.
Mr Reader of Birralee Rd received a call about half an hour before the Premier Peter Gutwein's announcement on June 18.
"I was absolutely gobsmacked because the site wasn't even on the list of five preferred sites," he said.
The new site, 5.2km east of Westbury, is about 1.5 km away in a straight line from where the couple are building a new home on their 280ha property.
The couple are members of a new group of seven families, Concerned Residents Opposed to the Westbury Prison Site (CROWPS), which is opposing development on the Brushy Rivulet Crown Reserve.
They are concerned that lights and noise from the proposed prison will upset breeding cycles for native and farmed animals.
"This is still not preferred site because it doesn't have services, there is no power, no water, nor sewerage, no gas and no phone line," he said.
Ms Reader said the couple had also been opposed to the original Westbury site.
"I don't know why they don't put it on the pulp mill site (Long Reach) which is ready to go," he said.
They said double standards seemed to apply to the Government's Reserve proposal. Government considered this area to be of significant environmental value until the Premier's announcement," he said.
"Owners of a neighbouring property have sought approval from the Crown three times to clear 10-15 metres of bushland bordering the Brushy Rivulet Crown Reserve to erect a new fence.
"They have been refused on each occasion with the last rejection occurring on June 2, 2020.
"This decision was on the advice of environmental specialists due to the presence of endangered and/or threatened species of flora and fauna protected under the Threatened Species Act 1995 and/or Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
"How is it that the Tasmanian Government can now seemingly change their rules and demolish 16ha of high conservation area to build a maximum security prison? Obviously the Tasmanian Government considers that different rules apply to them."
Attorney General Elise Archer said that advise from the Department of Primary Industries Water and the Environment indicated that requests for clearing of bushland adjacent to Brushy Rivulet had not been refused.
"Rather, like any such proposal, the landowners were asked to undertake the required due diligence on the potential impacts of their proposal on the environment before proceeding," Ms Archer said.
"The Tasmanian Government understands the importance of protecting and managing the environment, while progressing major infrastructure developments.
"The Northern Regional Prison is no exception and we will be fully cognisant of the local environment during this process.
"A preliminary investigation has been conducted by DPIPWE and it is understood there are no eagle nests, covenants or records of threatened wildlife on the block. Further due diligence of the Crown land site is currently underway.
"It is important to note that the prison is likely to only require a footprint of approximately 15 hectares of the 70 hectare site, providing opportunities to manage any environmental features on the site."
Ms Archer said recently that it was expected due diligence on the site would be finalised this month.
Construction is expected to begin on Stage 1 in early 2022 with an opening in 2025.
Mr Reader said members of the group met Department of Justice and Department of Primary Industries, Water and Environment representatives on July 1.
"The Government representatives at this meeting confirmed no due diligence had yet been undertaken on the new proposed site but were adamant that the site had no conservation value and it was land "excess to requirements"," he said.
"No consideration has been given to the extensive and integral wildlife corridor which runs through six neighbouring properties and is essential for the preservation of many endangered and vulnerable birds and mammals found on the proposed prison site such as the spotted-tailed quoll, eastern quoll, bettong, eastern barred bandicoot, wombat, Tasmanian devil, masked owl and wedge-tailed eagle," he said.
"The site location would effectively cut this important corridor off and close a critical door in this corridor and threaten the survival of many of these species."
Ms Reader said Birralee Road was notorious for being a dangerous, narrow road and would be worse with increased traffic.
"Department representatives advised that the only improvements to the Birralee Road being considered were entry and exit slip lanes directly outside the proposed prison site," he said.
"Residents are concerned about their safety and how the massive increase in the volume of traffic would impact all who live and travel on the Birralee Road.
"Department representatives confirmed both the Frankford Road and Roseburn Road would not be upgraded at all."
He said the group was extremely concerned for their family and friends and the wider community who would be directly affected by the proposed new location.
"Members have invested heavily in their farming properties and other residents sought out this unique location for the lifestyle it offers for them and future generations," he said.
"Future farming and lifestyle directions will severely be affected should the prison be located on this proposed new location.
Mr Reader said one resident received a call from his real estate agent informing him to "drop your asking price as it has just been announced that the new proposed prison site is near you".
A pro prison group says that since the announcement about the new proposed site nine out of ten units near the railway line had been sold.
"A new sign has just been put up opposite my house that a subdivision will be happening," Grace Rock a Westbury resident and the creator of the Northern Regional Prison Site Info Page on Facebook said.
"Westbury is a market hotspot tight now." The former site was 2.1km out of Westbury.