Councillors say they will join fight to stop Kembla Grange jail plan

Growing dissent: Ami Beck, pictured at the junction where the proposed prison land meets her future housing estate, says jail opponents have already gathered thousands of signatures.

Growing dissent: Ami Beck, pictured at the junction where the proposed prison land meets her future housing estate, says jail opponents have already gathered thousands of signatures.

Anti-Dapto jail campaigner Ami Beck, who is building a house across the road from part of the site earmarked for a prison, has shed new light on her fears about the proposal.

Speaking at Monday night’s council meeting, Ms Beck told councillors of her previous experience living next to an ice dealer, saying she was “angry, upset and devastated” to once again be facing a life of living next door to criminals.

“From 2012 to 2016 we lived next door to a family where the husband was frequently in and out of jail for smaller crimes,” an emotional Ms Beck said.

“Finally he was sentenced for seven years after police had completed a lengthy undercover operation for a series of significant ice deals and firearm offences.

“We now can’t help but think to ourselves, we just got away from that life constantly living in fear, watching out of our window at midnight to see drug deals not even 10 metres from our sleeping children.

“We do not want to go through this fear again.”

At least four councillors – Vicky King, Janice Kershaw, Chris Connor and Dom Figliomeni – signalled their intention to join Ms Beck and other campaigners, saying that there was no information that would convince them of the prison’s merits.

“We as a council should take leadership and join the no movement,” Cr King said.

Likewise, Cr Figliomeni said “let’s just be blunt, this is a bad proposal… I would urge at every opportunity that council objects to a jail being built at West Dapto.”

“I don’t think no matter what they put up it won’t change my mind,” he said.

Cr Janice Kershaw said she did not need to be informed of details before making a decision.

“I don’t support a jail going anywhere in Wollongong,” she said. “I don’t care about the business case to sell that there will be employment… I’m sorry we’re not that desperate for that type of employment.”

But others, including Leigh Colacino, Cameron Walters and David Brown said more information was needed. 

Cr Colacino said it was incumbent on the council to listen to the full business case from Corrective Services NSW, but that it did not have to accept the plan for a prison if there were better uses for the Kembla Grange land.

“We have to take the lead in this – we don’t have to accept that a prison goes on that site,” he said. 

“If there is something else that could deliver new jobs, let’s know about it. If they think a new prison would be more productive – let them show us their business case.” 

Councillors voted unanimously to support a motion from Cr Brown, inviting a Corrective Services staff member to address the council.

Cr Brown said the council – and residents – needed access to information about the prison as soon as possible.

“When we get the information we may be in position to have a definitive position on the Dapto jail,” he said.

“The way I see it, the status quo is that there is no jail in Dapto, there’s no jail in Dapto plans – it’s up to proponents to make the case. It’s not up to the residents to fights shadows with no details.”

The council will invite a representative from Corrective Service to present at a future council meeting, when further information is available. 

The staff member will be asked to “explain how the proposed prison relates to Council’s plans for the broader West Dapto area and what implications any such prison will have on infrastructure needs in the immediate area and any other impacts it will have on the city”