TODAY will see a crunch vote which could see Britain’s largest prison move a giant step closer to coming to Wrexham.
County planners will have their first chance to show their stance on the controversial build bid as an outline planning application for the 2,100-inmate jail goes before the planning committee at 6pm.
The Ministry of Justice wants to build a closed category C prison on the former Firestone factory site on Wrexham Industrial Estate.
Today’s vote will be the biggest indicator yet as to whether permission will ultimately be granted for the 76,370 square metre jail.
Despite fierce opposition from residents on the nearby Pentre Maelor Estate and elsewhere, the authority’s head of community wellbeing and development, Lawrence Isted, is recommending the outline plans for approval.
If the bid gets the ultimate nod, the huge prison would comprise of three accommodation buildings and a further eight buildings to accommodate a kitchen, health centre, reception, education, sports centre, faith centre and staff training.
Within the secure compound there would also be a multi-use games area and an all-weather sports pitch.
It would be enclosed by a 5.2m outer perimeter fence faced with galvanised steel sheet, illuminated by lighting columns and monitored by CCTV cameras and with an inner fence of the same height.
Battle lines have been drawn ahead of the meeting between those in favour and against the prison.
Abenbury Community Council chairman, Cllr Ray Squire, who lives on the Pentre Maelor estate, said up to five homes have been vacated since the prison’s probable location was announced in September and more people in the community wish to leave.
“Who would want to live next to a huge prison?”, he said. “We’ve got five empty houses now on the estate, five more than we had when the decision to award the prison to Wrexham was announced.
“One lady has had her house on the market but no one is going to want to move in next door to a jail. It is very damaging to our small community.”
Cllr Squire said he felt, despite the best efforts of the community council, a decision on the prison had already been made in favour of it going ahead.
“Their minds are made up, otherwise why would they put tenders out for the building companies?”, he said.
“We’ll make our representations at the meeting, but the powers that be won’t listen to the people, they’ve got the blinkers on.”
Gwersyllt West councillor Arfon Jones has raised concerns over how the prison will be run as well as its size.
“I don’t believe we need a prison of this size,” he said. “A 750 to 1,000 inmate prison is quite big enough for Wrexham.
“I don’t think the number of local jobs people are quoting will be created either as people will travel here from elsewhere for jobs. Once it’s decided I hope it will be run by the public sector rather than the private sector.
“Everybody is obsessed with the economic benefits and at the end of the day we’re incarcerating 2,100 people and we need to consider how they will be treated and where they will go when they’re released.”
However, the Wrexham Business Professionals group says the £250 million jail will supercharge the economy of North East Wales.
The group, made up of local firms, solicitors and accountants, who promote the development of businesses, skills and employment opportunities for professional people in Wrexham, have backed the idea from the outset.
Speaking on their behalf, Gill Atkinson, from chartered accountants and registered auditors Coxeys, said it was vitally important the scheme was given the go ahead.
She said: “Like everywhere else, Wrexham has been buffeted by the cold winds of the recession so it is brilliant news to hear we will be benefiting from around 1,000 precious new jobs.
“It’s a massive prize. This is a once-in-a-generation investment that will provide long-term benefits to the economy of Wrexham and will radiate out to the wider area.”
In the report due to go before planning committee members tonight, Mr Isted said it was anticipated the prison would employ up to 764 people. Of them 413 are expected to come from the local area.
He said: “15 sites in North Wales and the North West of England were put forward for consideration. The Firestone Site was found to best meet the MoJ’s site selection criteria.
“The prison itself represents a £248 million investment in Wrexham on a site located in one of the main areas of employment in the county borough.”
A Prison Service spokesman said: “We remain in no doubt the proposed new prison in Wrexham will be a huge boost for the local economy.
“It is set to create up to 1,000 jobs and boost the regional economy by around £23m a year, providing millions of pounds worth of construction opportunities and great possibilities for local businesses. Across the country we are replacing older, inefficient accommodation with newer buildings that are cheaper to run. We will also hold prisoners close to their homes, which we know helps prevent reoffending.”
Wrexham MP Ian Lucas said: “I believe it is crucial the planning committee considers this application carefully.
“I will of course be watching the process with interest. If the proposals are approved, we must ensure we do all we can to secure infrastructure improvements for Wrexham in the coming months as part of the package of investments a new prison could bring.”