A new jail could be built in Wollongong, with the NSW government eyeing a site for a maximum-security facility at Kembla Grange.
The government revealed on Monday it had shortlisted a parcel of land in the fast-growing West Dapto area for a jail – but wouldn’t say how big the facility might be, or exactly how many inmates it would house.
The government and its justice arm, Corrective Services NSW (CSNSW), have stressed the deal was not yet done and the community would be consulted before the facility was given the green light.
The prison, if approved, would be built on land bordered by the railway line, West Dapto Road to the north, with its southern border following Darkes and Sheaffes roads.
The land lies south of a car transport and storage facility and within a stone’s throw of Kembla Grange train station.
The subject area spans 2.375 square kilometres and has a perimeter of about 8km. However, it is unclear at this stage how much of that area a jail would occupy and where it would be positioned on the site.
The potential site has a cemetery within its boundaries and appears to cross a section of West Dapto Road.
“It’s nowhere near residences, it’s part of an industrial area and currently owned by BlueScope,” the parliamentary secretary for the Illawarra, Gareth Ward, said.
That might be the case at present, but the site is bordered by land set to become home to hundreds of houses and some of the new village centres of West Dapto, which will include shops, businesses and a primary school.
Some of the nearby development projects are well under way, while others are under consideration by Wollongong City Council.
The West Dapto development area is considered a state significant housing site and will have 50,000 residents when complete.
“I acknowledge that there are plans for development of homes close to there [the site], but take South Nowra [jail]; it backs onto homes. Take Parklea prison; it backs onto homes,” Mr Ward said.
“A lot of these facilities are ... close to homes but the experience I can say, as the local member with one of these facilities in my electorate, is good for jobs, good for the economy and good for opportunities for young people to stay local.”
As for how big the correctional facility would be, if built, Mr Ward said he was “confident that we can build a rather large facility” that would create hundreds of jobs.
The MP wouldn’t be drawn on whether the proposed jail would be similar to the 1700-bed correctional centre at Grafton, which is currently under construction.
“I can’t tell you exactly how big the facility will be, we’re having consultation around the concept,” he said.
“What I will tell the community is it will be several hundred beds and several hundred jobs.”
As for the make-up of the proposed Kembla Grange correctional facility, Mr Ward said: “We’d be looking at maximum through to minimum, so we’ll be catering to a number of different types of prison population.”
At this stage, it would be a male-only jail.
Corrective Services confirmed it had begun preliminary investigations to “determine whether the Dapto area would be a suitable location for a correctional facility”.
“The investigation is in the very early stages and discussions have just commenced with Wollongong City Council to ensure we are familiar with any community needs or concerns”, a CSNSW spokeswoman said. “It is important to note that no decision has been made.”
Despite the plan not yet being locked-in, Mr Ward said it did have bipartisan support from Illawarra Labor MPs. In a joint statement, Anna Watson (Shellharbour), Ryan Park (Keira) and Paul Scully (Wollongong) said they wanted more detail and had called for an urgent briefing from NSW Corrections Minister David Elliott.
“There are many legitimate questions the local community will want answered,” the MPs said. “We are keen to know more detail behind this proposal so that the community is informed of the facts of precisely what is under consideration by the government.”
Community consultation is expected to begin within weeks. “This is not a guarantee, we need to make sure the community’s prepared to accept this,” Mr Ward said.