Westbury prison site stalled as Ashley plans floated to public
By Brinley Duggan
9 December 2021
A controversial proposal for a would-be Northern prison at Westbury has been "put on hold" as the state government steps back to undertake community consultation regarding where the prison will be located.
State Attorney-General Elise Archer said the long-embattled plan for the prison to be located on Birralee Road about five kilometres out of Westbury had been paused while the government conducted the new consultation period, and in the light of the Ashley Youth Detention Centre becoming an option for the new prison.
One of those resident was lawyer Linda Poulton, who became the president of the group Westbury Residents (sic) Against the Prison.
In light of the announcement of a new period of community consultation by Ms Archer, Ms Poulton said the group had been offered no closure.
"The refusal to abandon the Brushy Rivulet site altogether means we cannot and will not be complacent," she said.
"Our municipality is now being asked to make a choice between two sites, and the Minister's [comments] suggest the decision will be made solely on who wants [the prison] the least."WRAP president Lisa (sic) Poulton
Ms Poulton conceded the latest consultation period was not all bad news and said it indicated the government had "lifted its game".
"[We] naturally welcome the proposal to consult the Deloraine community in advance, because this courtesy was not afforded to Westbury," she said.
Meander Valley mayor Wayne Johnston echoed Ms Poulton's comments about the importance of transparent consultation.
He said the council had written to the Attorney-General last week "outlining the importance of keeping Meander Valley residents informed".
"It is encouraging that the government is pursuing community consultation well in advance of any decision," Cr Johnston said.
When asked if a similarly intensive and public consultation period had been carried out when plans for the Northern prison were first floated Ms Archer said the processes and sites were "different".
"We went through a process [back then]. It was very public, we always said we would consult with the community as part of the planning process, [but] this process is different because we haven't made a decision about the Ashley site," she said.
"This is a slightly different process because we're being asked to do this by the community as to whether or not the future use of the Ashley site should be for the Northern Correctional Facility ... that's a completely different situation than we had previously.
"This is very much community driven, the community proposal was that we look at it, and if the community embraces it, then we'll reconvene and discuss that and come out with a decision whether or not we would move sites."
Ashley or Westbury?
With the government eliciting its transparency about the new consultation process, and the fact it was considering Ashley as a potential Northern prison site, Ms Archer discussed the potential allure of Ashley.
"The beauty about the Ashley site, if we went there, is it's currently zoned for that purpose [of being a prison]," she said.
"[If Ashley was selected] we wouldn't need to go through the first hurdle in the planning system in terms of the development application.
"That means less time getting caught up in that system and more time to consult with the community and ensure we comply with the planning process."
Ms Archer said any movement towards the Ashley had not happened, and said if the community dismissed the Ashley proposition the government could "reactivate the plans for the current site".
She said the government was "not doing any planning" at this stage, and instead had focused all of its energy into the consultation process.
Five year timeline still on track: Archer
Despite the latest development in the Northern prison saga, Ms Archer insisted the originally invoked five year timeline for the prison was still on track.
That was despite funding for the project dropping off the August state budget. In the previous budget, $7.8 million was allocated for the prison in the 2021-22 financial year, and $32.6 million for the following year.
The August state budget showed the Northern prison delegation had reduced by $82 million over three years, but Ms Archer was confident the five year goal would be achieved.
She said the budget "pushed the funding out slightly because we knew that, in terms of the planning process, we wouldn't be commending a build until we'd gone through that planning process".
"We're still hopeful with that five year time frame for the build."