Meander Valley residents demand answers from council, government over Westbury prison site choice
By Adam Holmes
12 August 2021
Meander Valley residents are continuing to demand answers from the council and state government about how and why Westbury and Brushy Rivulet were chosen for a prison, the legalities of the chosen land and its impact on natural values.
About 300 people attended a public meeting in Deloraine on Wednesday evening to ask questions of the Northern Regional Prison's project director, Meander Valley Council's mayor and general manager, and other planning staff.
Prior to the meeting, the council received 86 submissions from the community with 84 opposed and two in favour.
But given the Justice Department is continuing to carry out due diligence works on the land without final details, and councillors are unable to voice their opinion before it comes to a vote, many questions were left unanswered.
Prison project director Colin Shepherd provided a further update, including that an economic impact assessment and cost-benefit analysis is being updated after the proposed site was moved up Birralee Road.
"We're also looking at what infrastructure services will need to be taken to the site and how that will happen, and we are looking now to move towards a design of the actual prison itself," he said.
"We are now looking to advertise a request for tender which we expect will go out in the next week or two to engage an architectural team to help us develop the prison design."
A proposal to rezone the land and construct the prison is expected before council early next year.
Two prison opposition groups - one based in Westbury, and one a collection of neighbouring residents - gave presentations detailing their extensive concerns about the chosen land.
Westbury Region Against the Prison provided a timeline, starting in 2017, when Meander Valley Council expressed interest in a site near Ashley for a new corrections centre, similar to a prison farm. Instead, Glen Avon Farms in Westbury's industrial estate was approached by council for a deal involving a maximum security prison, announced in 2019.
WRAP secretary Anne-Marie Loader said it was concern from large businesses in the industrial estate - not the local community - that spooked the government, resulting in the site being moved further up Birralee Road onto a block of land initially purchased for conservation.
"With so much time wasted, the government was in no mood to reflect on these obstacles," she said.
"The reserve would have to be the dumbest site you could ever think of putting a maximum security prison. It has no connection to sewerage, no electricity, no telecommunications."
Neighbours groups - Concerned Residents Opposed to the Westbury Prison - detailed their ongoing concerns, including one of the immediate neighbours being given a Landcare grant to revegetate habitat and protect the wildlife corridor, only for the government to plan significant land clearing for a prison next door.
One neighbour spent several years attempting to get departmental approval to carry out small-scale clearing to build a fence to prevent livestock entering the land, which was only approved after they became frustrated at a perceived double-standard given the scale of clearing required for a prison.
Another neighbour has been told that the depreciation in land value will mean a loss in equity, and an inability to be lent funds to complete the construction of their home.
Field naturalist Sarah Lloyd OAM said there were at least 80 hollow bearing eucalypts on the land, and she urged the government to reconsider its choice.
"If a facility is needed in Northern Tasmania, find a biological desert, not a biodiversity hotspot," she said.
An audience question centred on the legal terms of the original land purchase agreement, which involved Tasmania using Commonwealth funds in 1999 with conditions that the land be protected for conservation.
Mr Shepherd said the prison team was waiting to hear back from DPIPWE and the Commonwealth about the management of the land. A list of potential offset land options has been prepared.
Three people spoke in favour of the prison at Westbury, including a view that it would provide jobs for future generations of residents, improved infrastructure for the regiona and concern at the stigmatisation of prisoner families.