The NSW Government’s announcement that land in Kembla Grange could become home to a maximum security prison has taken many by surprise, but it is not the first time the suburb has been earmarked as a jail site.
In 2005, when Labor premier Morris Iemma asked South Coast councils to bid for a $130 million, 500-prisoner jail, a 40 hectare site on Reddalls Road was put forward by councillors.
The new site, flagged on Monday by the state’s Corrective Services department, is in a different location – between West Dapto, Darkes and Sheaffes roads – and much larger at 230 hectares.
However, like the earlier site, it is already proving controversial.
According to a council spokesperson, Kembla Grange was ruled out as a potential prison site 12 years ago, “due to bushfire and flood risk, nearby endangered ecological communities and community feedback”.
The council did not go ahead with a formal expression of interest for the earlier prison. As a result, Shoalhaven was the only council to make a bid, and Nowra’s South Coast Correctional Centre opened in 2010.
Initially, during discussions over the 2005 jail bid, Wollongong council bureaucrats and then general manager Rod Oxley said they believed a portion of land owned by Tallawarra Power Station’s TRU Energy would be the best option for a jail.
Land at Maddens Plains, north of Wollongong, was also briefly considered by the council, but ruled out because it was too far from transport.
According to the council at the time, the Tallawarra site would have “hit the mark on every line” of the government’s prison criteria.
This Monday, Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said the Tallawarra site, located between Koonawarra and Yallah near the shores of Lake Illawarra, remained a good option.
He expressed his surprise that it had been ruled out by the state, which only released one location proposal. Cr Bradbery met with Correctional Services staff on Friday at 2pm, who told him and the council’s general manager they were “in the early stages of considering options for a facility in the Local Government Area”.
A spokeswoman from Corrective Services said “earlier investigation of the Tallawarra site indicated it would not be suitable for our purposes”, but did not explain why this was the case.
Results of Illawarra Mercury poll: Should a new prison be built in Wollongong?