Monday’s announcement that the NSW Government was considering building a large prison in West Dapto took Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery by surprise.
The city leader said he first found out Corrective Services were eyeing Wollongong as a site for a new prison last Friday.
“The general manager and myself were just informed by bureaucrats from Corrective Services that they were thinking in terms of this location for a prison type of facility,” he said.
“We weren’t given very much detail, and they were mostly interested in learning the constraints on the site and the challenges that might be out there, because it’s fairly low-lying, flood-prone land.
“The jobs and investment, the implications for the local economy, sounded quite well, but as to where, there was never anything finalised.
“We thought they were just dipping their toe into it.”
Cr Bradbery said he believed there should have been more consultation on possible locations before any announcement was made.
“Personally I think there could be other locations in the city – like the Tallawarra land – that could be better,” he said.
“I’m not against the employment opportunities a prison could bring, but what I am saying is: is there a better site, what about the community, what are the constraints on that site?”
Cr Bradbery said he sympathised with West Dapto residents who have expressed concern about what it could mean to live next to a prison.
“There’s a fear that they’ve just invested all this money into a property and it might impact their property values,” he said.
“The perception of living next to a prison is always going to be a challenge, but I don’t get the impression that the negative perceptions are true.
“I get the impression that a prison can actually do the opposite in terms of facilitating employment and downstream services. There would be options for social workers and psychologists to work with prisoners on rehabilitation, for instance.
“And there another positive could be the opportunity to make use of those who have day release or community work, in dealing with vegetation management, litter control and those sorts of things.”
The council has invested a significant amount of money into planning, roads and infrastructure for the fast-growing housing development area of West Dapto, which is expected to house 50,000 residents when complete in the next 20 years.
While residents may fear a jail would bring down the value of the area, Cr Bradbery said it was possible the prison could encourage more state investment.
“We might be able to put the pressure on to say, ‘well if you want a prison out here, you also have to put the corresponding state roads and assets out here’,” he said.
For instance, he said the government might like to consider building an extension to Northcliffe Drive, which would give West Dapto residents a better northern access way into their suburbs.
Cr Bradbery said he hoped the community would now have the chance to voice their opinions and concerns before any final decision was made.
“I’d like to see the details, thank you very much, and so would everyone else,” he said.