Caernarfon prison ... a bizarre explanation

I am disappointed, and in fact quite surprised, that the UK Government has today announced that the former Ferodo/Friction Dynamex site near Caernarfon is "not suitable" for a prison.

     

     Plans for town prison are dropped - BBC, 22 September 2009

In the first instance, this specific site was chosen as the most suitable location for a new prison in Wales by the Ministry of Justice. If there were any questions over its suitability they would have been highlighted in that selection process.

Secondly, Gwynedd Council have specifically endorsed the building of a prison on the site in principle, subject only to the reservations about design which are entirely to be expected in the planning process for any substantial building.

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In fact, I'm left wondering if the decision has anything to do with "suitability" and is not instead entirely motivated by financial considerations. It is no secret that the current owners of the site, Bluefield Caernarfon Ltd, have been looking to develop the site in other ways, outlined here and here.

I must admit that I thought this was just a way of trying to persuade everybody that the site was worth more than it actually is (the buildings are full of asbestos and it would cost a lot to clear the site) in the hope of getting a better price from the UK Government.

However the problem with that explanation is that this story appears to suggest that the UK government had not even got so far as to make an offer to buy the site. If this is true, it appears to confirm that we have a government in Westminster that says one thing but then does quite the opposite.

Yet another factor would be that the UK government would certainly have wanted to build the prison under PFI, but the rules regarding PFI have changed so much that there is no way that this particular financial vehicle could be used to fund it.

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Anyway, the real question now is how to move forward. In my opinion it was a good site, but it certainly isn't the only suitable site for a new prison. The criteria for choosing a site should be proximity to Caernarfon (because that is the centre for Criminal Justice in North West Wales) and good transport links.

I suggest two things are done:

The first is that the UK Government reaffirms its commitment to build a prison on suitable site in the area.

The second is that Gwynedd Council (and perhaps Ynys Môn, as a site just over the Menai might do equally well) works to identify a number of alternatives sites for consideration within the next couple of weeks.

I think that we in Wales have got to be pro-active in this. We can't leave it to the current UK government because they have no particular reason to sort this out ... they'll be out of office well before it's built. If we want this prison, we have now got to work hard all over again to get it.

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For some background on the need for a new prison in North Wales, see this discussion on the Syniadau Forums.

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