A DECISION to gift land worth nearly £1 million to be used as the site of a new prison has been branded an “absolute disgrace”.
In a letter seen by the Leader, Edwina Hart, the minister for economy, science and transport, confirmed to Wrexham Assembly Member Lesley Griffiths the site of the former Firestone factory had been transferred to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for no cost on June 27.
Richard Evans, director of Wingetts, a Wrexham-based estate agent and auctioneers, said the site of the proposed 76,370-square metre prison would have been worth about £943,000 on the open market.
Chairman of Abenbury Community Council, Ray Squire, a vocal campaigner against the jail, has hit out at the decision, which he said “beggars belief”.
Cllr Squire said: “This is an absolute disgrace. That land could have been offered to industry or it could have been sold. I am sure we could have got businesses in instead of a prison.
“It was supposed to be turned over to Wrexham Council but it wasn’t.”
The land in question used to be the site of the Firestone factory. The new build is estimated to be a £212 million project.
“Wrexham Council contributed to the cost of the fence that goes around the site of the prison and they are telling us they can’t keep places like Plas Madoc open,” added Cllr Squire.
He said he was told the initial plan was to hand the land over to Wrexham Council. But the decision to transfer it to the MoJ has left him feeling “aggrieved”.
He added: “They wouldn’t even have had to sell it. If they had offered it to any companies looking for a site I would have had no problem with it being given away.
“We would have had industry and it would have been better industry than a prison. I am very aggrieved the land has been given to the MoJ for nothing.”
In May, the Leader reported a £151m (plus VAT) contract to build the ‘super-prison’ had been awarded to Lend Lease, an international leader in property and infrastructure with origins in Australia.
With other expenses, the overall project spend is set to be about £212m, under the original £250m estimate.
The proposals include about £50m to be spent with small and medium enterprises (SMEs), £30m with local businesses and 50 per cent of the entire workforce to be recruited from the local area, including about 100 apprenticeships.
The prison is estimated to create about 1,000 jobs when in operation and is estimated to boost the regional economy by bringing in about £23m per year.
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “The Welsh Government has long supported seeing a prison built in North Wales and we are committed to working with the Ministry of Justice to ensure its success. It is estimated the project create around 1,000 jobs and provide a significant boost for the local economy.”