UNCERTAINTY reigns as to whether a new jail will be built in North Wales after a major speech on prisons policy by new Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke yesterday.

But the leader of Wrexham Council and a former prisons minister have restated their belief that the region must stay firmly in the running to house one.

In the House of Commons yesterday Mr Clarke unveiled a programme of radical prison reforms to “shut the revolving door of crime and reoffending”.

Criticising the growth of the prison population in England and Wales, he said there must be other penalties, adding that locking people up for the sake of it was a waste of public funds.

He made no direct reference to building new prisons, failing to end uncertainty on what line the new government will take on the issue. But a Prison Service spokesperson later told the Leader: “As part of the rehabilitation revolution, we will work towards providing a fit-for-purpose prison estate through building new prisons and closing inefficient and worn-out places.

“The National Offender Management Service will deliver over 14,000 prison places under the prison capacity programme by 2012.

“We are undertaking a review of sentencing and will continue to keep our prison population and capacity projections under review in the light of this.”

Last year, Wrexham was firmly in the running to be the location for a new prison to serve North Wales. But the site eventually chosen in Caernarfon was later abandoned because of the high cost of preparing the land, which had been occupied by the Ferodo brake factory.

Before the General Election the Labour government announced a new search for a site in North Wales or the North West of England, and Wrexham put forward two possible sites as contenders.

Both on the the town’s industrial estate, they are the former Firestone tyre factory site and the plot once occupied by the Owens Corning plant.

Wrexham MP Ian Lucas, who has frequently voiced his opposition to a prison in his constituency, said yesterday: “Mr Clarke’s statement doesn’t make things any clearer.

“It is difficult to get clarity on this, which is exactly why I have asked for a meeting with the Ministry of Justice.

“I will be asking the straight question – do you intend to build a prison in North Wales? I want the answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

“I have not yet had a reply to my request for a meeting.

“There is a great deal of confusion in this policy but we can’t have an informed discussion until we get some clarification from the government.”

Wrexham Council leader, Cllr Aled Roberts, has often stated the authority’s belief that a prison should be built in North Wales. He said: “The Ministry of Justice are well aware of our stance and we are still waiting for a shortlist of sites to be announced.

“We are being positive in the way we are conducting our discussions with the ministry.”

Delyn Labour MP David Hanson, who was prisons minister in the last government, said: “I still think there is a need for a prison in North Wales.”