More than 100 people attended the Tucabia community hall on Wednesday February 2 for the first community consultation on the proposed Grafton correctional centre at Lavidia – a similar number of people attended a second session later that day.
Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin and Infrastructure NSW project director Greg Lake outlined the government’s plans for the facility, which will be delivered as a public private partnership.
Mr Severin said the new gaol would be a “major hub” as the NSW Government modernises its correctional facilities network to accommodate ever-increasing inmate numbers, which are at a record high.
He said the 195 hectare site at Lavidia was “geographically ideal” in a “hub and spoke” system.
To get the best value for the taxpayers’ dollar, he said it is “best to have larger facilities”, rather than “small boutique style” prisons.
“This is potentially only the start,” he said, “we need as many beds as possible … this is one of the most exciting projects”.
Mr Severin said that building the prison near Grafton, was an “obvious choice” from a “purely operational point of view”, as it was ideally located to service the northern region of the state.
Mr Lake told those present that the two-year construction phase would create 300 jobs and that there would be 250 ongoing jobs once the prison is completed in 2019.
“We hope to go through a process to work out how to maximise benefits for Grafton,” he said.
“We want to hear what you have to say about that.
“We’re at the beginning of a four-year project; we will have regular meetings to gather the answers.”
On the site’s selection, Mr Lake said it was identified as the most suitable available within a 40-kilometre radius of Grafton.
On the acquisition of Ben Jones’ farmland, he said “there was plenty of time to come to an agreement” and that a “public forum was not the place to talk about that”.
This comment drew a derisive chorus from some of the audience: Mr Lake said the process would “take as long as needed to reach an agreement”.
At the time of writing, Mr Jones was yet to receive an offer for his land.
Mr Lake said that a partner to construct the gaol would be found by June 2017 and that the procurement process to design the gaol was due to start today February 10.
He said that each stage of the process would be explained to the public through future community meetings at various venues and via email and letters – people can sign up to receive updates by phoning 8016 0100 or emailing to [email protected]
A man in the audience asked what other properties were considered for the gaol and why consultations similar to those for the highway upgrade and new Grafton bridge weren’t used.
Mr Lake said “there were no sites that we looked at that wouldn’t affect [nearby] people,” however, he would not reveal how many or where those sites were.
On questions raised regarding traffic, and water, sewer and electricity services, Mr Lake said that those issues would be resolved in consultation with Clarence Valley Council and that Infrastructure NSW would work closely with the RMS (Roads and Maritime Services) regarding the construction of the nearby Pacific Highway upgrade.
“As we find options, we will ask you what you think at public forums,” Mr Lake said.
He said the state would pay for the provision of all of the gaol’s services.
A man asked: If an environmental impact statement (EIS) judged the site as not acceptable, would that stop the gaol from being constructed there?
Mr Lake said he couldn’t “answer that question today, but that would be very, very unlikely”.
A man asked Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis, who was in the audience, how long he had known that the gaol would be at Lavidia.
Mr Gulaptis: “I knew the day it was announced in the newspapers [December 1, 2015].”
Terry Elvey, a New Zealander who has lived in Australia since 1983 and in the area since 2003; has been protesting against the government’s acquisition of Ben Jones’ farmland, yelled: “Bullshit”.
Mr Gulaptis: “Is that you Terry?”
Mr Elvey: “Of course it was me.”
Mr Gulaptis: “Terry, become a citizen of Australia… [Mr Elvey’s interjections masked what Mr Gulaptis was saying].
Mr Elvey: “Here we go, I’m not an Australian. I’m not allowed to be here … I know right from wrong Mr Gulaptis; this is wrong and you should know it’s wrong.”
Once the argy-bargy between the two men had settled down, Mr Gulaptis continued his answer.
“The selection panel was made up of Infrastructure NSW … the commissioner of Corrective Services … Justice and Planning,” he said.
“I shouldn’t be on the selection panel … that’s how the situation can become corrupted.
“I can understand the secrecy [regarding choosing the site and the announcement] … I shouldn’t say secrecy.”
Mr Gulaptis then outlined some reasons for not disclosing where short-listed sites were.
“If you say it’s going over here, it’s raising expectations over there…
“The whole thing becomes a dogfight … this [decision] has got to be based on the evidence.
“I saw Ben just before Christmas, and I said to Ben, ‘I want to be a part of the solution’.”
Mr Severin told those at the meeting that, in the future, there is enough space at the site to build a 300-bed facility for women and provide 400 extra beds for men, which would amount to the housing 1,700 inmates.
“The market clearly indicates that you get much better value for money if you scale up early, rather than come back later,” he said.
Infrastructure NSW clarifies DA approval timing
During the first public consultation for the proposed Grafton correctional centre at Tucabia Hall on Wednesday February 3, some of those who attended were sceptical about the timing of Clarence Valley Council’s development application (DA) approval for Ben Jones’ house, which was near completion at the time of the site’s announcement.
The DA was approved in July 2015.
Following the meeting, the Independent asked Infrastructure NSW the following question: “Could you please tell me the date that Clarence Valley Council was advised of any possible sites (either formally or/and informally) for the new gaol?”
Infrastructure NSW responded with the following statement: “At the time the DA for the improvement on the site was approved, the site was not being contemplated as a potential location for the new correctional centre.
“Council had no decision making role in selection of the site and was notified about its selection on the same day of the public announcement on 1 December 2015.
“The site was identified as the most suitable site available within a 40km radius of the Grafton town centre following a rigorous evaluation process. It was chosen due to a range of factors, including not being prone to bushfires or flooding and posing significantly less risk to the environment, community, and to Aboriginal or European heritage.
“Ideally, the site is located out of the town centre but is not too far from it, providing easy access for future employees and suppliers.
“The landowner will be compensated fairly for his property. He has asked that all aspects of the site negotiation process take place directly with his solicitor, and the project team is following his instructions.
“The project team recognises this is not an easy time for the landowner and all efforts are being made to work through the process with him in a considerate manner to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible.”