By Sharon Webb
THE TASMANIAN Government’s announcement of Westbury as the proposed site for a new $270m prison is already taking a toll among residents and local councillors.
Residents are lobbying councillors to protest about the stigma of Westbury becoming a prison town.
And Meander Valley Council Mayor Wayne Johnston was clearly affected on ABC Radio in a discussion about online trolling of councillors. He advised listeners to take up their problems with the prison with the state government not the council.
Councillor John Temple said around six residents a day drop into his Westbury gallery to vent their opinions.
‘People are very much against the proposal,’ he said.
‘They are aware of the social changes it may bring to this community and the nature of the area. It’s also a fear of the unknown.
‘We knew we may get a prison co-located with Ashley and were imagining a smaller prison. We had no thoughts of maximum security.’
Minister for Corrections Elise Archer last week announced that the site for the 270-bed prison would be on the outskirts of the historic village of Westbury, on the property at 135 Birralee Road.
Currently Glen Avon Farms, a 401 hectare site whose owners are located in the UK, the property is now used by a sister company Selborne Biological to produce animal blood products.
Ms Archer said the site was chosen from ten expressions of interest by landowners but would not comment on the other nine locations.
The government has negotiated a conditional contract on 41 hectares of Glen Avon Farms’ land. The prison’s footprint will be 13 hectares.
Advance preparation for the announcement was obvious, with roll-up banners printed for the announcement press conference, flyers dropped in Westbury letterboxes within 48 hours and an information website made available.
Acting Meander Valley Council general manager Jonathan Harmey said the next step is for the State Government to apply to council to rezone the land.
The project will be advertised and the public can make submissions in support or against it. The final decision is made by the Tasmanian Planning Commission.
Ms Archer, along with the website and flyers, emphasised the positive outcomes of the project as jobs for people in the area. ‘Hundreds of jobs during construction over five and ten year phases and 250 people employed permanently once in full operation.’
She was echoed by Meander Valley councillor Andrew Sherriff. ‘It’s a spend of $270m in this municipality – how can it not be a good thing?
‘The prison has got to go somewhere. I’d be more than happy to have it in Deloraine where I live. We have Ashley Detention Centre here – is that a big problem?’
Commenting on recent prison break-outs Cllr Sherriff maintained, that unlike the ageing Risdon prison, the new Northern Regional Prison would be a state-of-the-art high security prison: ‘I don’t know how you’d scale a six metre concrete wall.’
Cllr Frank Nott said, ‘This is a social justice advantage for prisoners from north and north-west Tasmania to have more access to their families.
‘The disadvantage is that noone wants it in their backyard. There’s a stigma attached to suburbs like Risdon Vale.’