West Dapto jail plan: we can’t blame people for being worried

Editorial

The consultation process over Corrective Services’ proposal to turn a massive parcel of Kembla Grange land into a future jail officially began on Sunday and will continue this week with three more information sessions.

But, unusually for this early stage of consultation, it’s already abundantly clear what many in the community think of the idea – especially those who have bought into the fast-growing residential development area of West Dapto.

On Friday, a group of anti-jail campaigners delivered more than 13,500 hard copy signatures to the office of their local MP Anna Watson.

Loud and clear, much of the Wollongong population has already made its mind up that this is not the right place for a prison, despite knowing very little about what this possible future jail might entail.

Fear and outrage emerged almost as soon as it was announced that the government was eyeing the Kembla Grange land in early April, with people worried it would affect land values, the safety and security of their suburbs and the reputation of the region. 

Traffic, environment, anti-social behaviour have also emerged as concerns, and for more than two months there has been rumour upon rumour circulating on social media about what this jail might look like and whether or not it’s a done deal.

And we can’t blame people for being worried.

Out of nowhere, a site larger than Australia’s biggest jail was being looked at for a prison.

It butts right up next to West Dapto housing developments, and there was no indication about which parts of the land might be turned into a correctional centre.

It was to be a “minimum to maximum” security jail, we were told, and there might be hundreds of prisoners, and maybe hundreds of jobs.

But that was it. Since April we have heard no more about the government’s ideas for Kembla Grange.

Without detail, it seems the NSW Government has lost the chance to convince most people that this thought bubble of an idea has merit – because people have filled in the gaping holes themselves and now fear the worst.

We’ll be watching carefully to see what happens next on this plan – but for now it seems this week’s consultation is somewhat redundant and back-to-front, because community sentiment couldn’t be clearer.