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Gaol files reveal CVC’s site preferences discarded

In June 2015, Clarence Valley Council suggested the pictured four general sectors in proximity to Grafton where sites may be available for a new correctional facility in its Grafton Correctional Centre Preliminary Site Options Assessment. Image: Contributed.

Geoff Helisma

When considering where to site the new Grafton gaol, Clarence Valley Council (CVC) was a key participant in sorting through the logistical and services elements regarding where the gaol would be built – however, all discussions among government departments, CVC, Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis, former mayor Richie Williamson, lobbyists and prospective owners of the gaol were strictly confidential.
Nevertheless, one man, Terry Elvey, has devoted vast amounts of his time seeking a fair outcome for 83-year-old Ben Jones, whose 195 hectare property at Lavadia – on which he had almost completed his new $200,000 home – was acquired for the prison.
Mr Jones has told the Independent that he is anything but happy about losing his home and property.
Meanwhile, Mr Elvey (through The Clarence Forum’s convenor John Hagger) has provided hundreds of documents he obtained through a GIPA (Government Information (Public Access) Act) request.
At a public consultation about the gaol in February 2016, Mr Elvey asked Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis how long he had known that the gaol would be at Lavidia.
Mr Gulaptis said: “I knew the day it was announced in the newspapers [December 1, 2015].”
After the public meeting, CVC’s environment, planning & community director Des Schroder made similar statements in another valley newspaper, when he said the location of the prison site “came out of the woodwork”.
“We knew they were looking south of Grafton, we’ve provided costings for sites at various levels and places,” he said.
“We had no role in final selection; we only found out about it at essentially the same time as the community.”
Earlier this month, CVC replied to an enquiry from Mr Elvey, asking if CVC had followed proper protocols regarding “breach of privacy” when releasing information to Infrastructure NSW about nearby property owners.
The Independent has contacted several of those property owners, all of whom have said they were not contacted, regarding their information being given to Infrastructure NSW.
The CVC letter to Mr Elvey states, in part: “Following receipt of your concerns, a full review was undertaken and it has come to light that council contacted the individuals concerned and obtained the verbal authority to release their information to the Department.
“This consultation occurred prior to the release of their information to the department.
“Unfortunately, this method of consultation is not recorded on council’s system … and, as such, was not included in the information provided to you … in accordance with GIPA.
“I apologise for this oversight, and advise that council’s record has been updated to reflect the actual situation.”
On September 2, 2015, an email from Infrastructure NSW to former CVC general manager Scott Greensill asked: “Can you also provide owner property details if they can be matched to the crude maps I am sending through.”
At this point a site had not been selected; consideration was being given to several sites that CVC had nominated around the periphery of Grafton city, most likely to the south near Alipou Creek in the vicinity of Acmena Juvenile Justice Centre.
On November 4, 2015, in an internal CVC email, a planning officer wrote: “Let’s hope they’re still not looking east of the airport – in the long term, a terrible location on so far as its integration and impact on the town.”
However, on November 16, CVC received a draft document for the gaol, prepared in October 2015, which was subsequently forwarded to relevant officers in an internal CVC email about a meeting with Infrastructure NSW; called to discuss logistical issues regarding the site chosen: “It seems that they have determined a preferred site (The Avenue, Glenugie) – refer to attached report provided,” the email stated.