'We'll be prisoners in our own homes' say villagers living near planned super-jail
Villagers have reacted with outrage at plans for a new 1,700 inmate "super prison" next door to Wymott and Garth jails in the Lancashire countryside.
Residents in Ulnes Walton are mobilising to fight the Government after the proposal, which will almost double the prison population near their homes, was announced this week.
The Ministry of Justice has earmarked the village near Leyland as a site for one of four state-of-the-art jails in a £4bn prisons programme to tackle overcrowding.
But angry locals, who already claim to be prisoners in their own homes due to the traffic generated by Wymott and Garth, say the rural area cannot possibly cope with a third.
"People round here call it the Wacky Races with all the traffic on our narrow country lanes," said Coun Nicola Watkinson, chair of the Ulnes Walton Parish Council.
"We don't want another prison here. The impact it will have on residents will be massive.
"I would urge everyone to make their views known to the Ministry of Justice during the consultation process. We are unlikely to win, but we've got to try."
The Government says it expects the project to create between 600 and 700 permanent jobs if it gets council approval.
The public will have until July 19 to take part in a consultation process before a planning application is submitted. And letters are being sent out by the Ministry of Justice this week explaining the project and inviting comments.
South Ribble MP Katherine Fletcher has also called on residents to have their say.
"It’s so important that the Ministry of Justice hears the views and feedback of our local communities, businesses and public services before any formal decisions are taken,” she said.
“The proposals include references to traffic, maintaining trees, the environment and local habitats - all things which have already been raised with me as concerns.
"The consultation also sets out plans to make sure there are local jobs created during construction and ongoing operations of the prison.”
If built, the new jail on land adjacent to Wymott and Garth will bring the prison population in Ulnes Walton to almost 4,000. Work could start in 2022/3 and it is envisaged it will be open by 2025.
Residents took to social media this week to express their dismay at the plans. One, Nicola Lamb, fumed: "To bring so many more cars and people to this area is insane. These roads are not designed for such high traffic volume, especially at the speeds that they drive."
Another, Tony Curtis, said: "This can't be allowed to happen. The area can't sustain the extra traffic and personnel. In a morning, when shift changes, it's like a Grand Prix."
Pamela Sloan added: "I'm afraid we have no chance of preventing it. The Home Office can overrule opposition and they always intended more prisons to be built on the site. What we must do is get the best deal we can with as many safeguards as possible."
And Paul Dodenhoff said: "I for one will be opposing it. If four more prisons need building I'm sure they could find more suitable locations. Another one at Ulnes Walton is simply taking the Mickey out of residents."
In its letter to locals, the Ministry of Justice says it has reviewed a number of locations across the country and decided that the land next to HMP Garth and HMP Wymott "would be an appropriate location."
The new establishment will be a Category C prison, catering for low risk inmates who are not thought likely to abscond.
It will have seven X-shaped house blocks, each with 240 prisoners over four floors. The majority of the rooms will be single cells.
The scheme will mean having to relocate the Wymott Bowling Club used by the local community. A new green and clubhouse will be built nearby.
Alex Chalk MP, Minster of State for Prisons and Probation, said: "Our plans, if successful, would bring many benefits to the local community, such as hundreds of jobs during construction, careers within the prison sector and an increased spend in local businesses.
"We believe that, following detailed feasibility work, land next to HMP Garth and HMP Wymott is a good location for one of these (new) prisons.
"Prisoner numbers change over time, which is why we must have robust plans in place to make sure we will always have enough places available.
"We expect there will be an increase in demand for prison places as the activity of our courts system continues to ramp up to full operating capacity following the national restrictions due to the COVID 19 pandemic.
"The increasing numbers of police, in line with the Prime Minister’s commitment to recruit 20,000 additional officers, is also likely to contribute to a higher prison population, and we therefore believe that creating 18,000 additional prison places will help to mitigate pressure on prison places in England and Wales in the coming years."
The Parish Council will be opposing the plan, citing increased traffic, loss of greenfield land, construction noise and the impact on wildlife amongst its objections.
Coun Watkinson added: "The feedback from the village is everyone isn't happy about it, we don't want it.
"They say it will create 700 more jobs, but that's 700 more cars down Ulnes Walton Lane, which is already a very dangerous lane.
"There is a lot of speeding traffic, you can't walk down the lane and residents can't get out of their driveways, especially during shift change-overs.
"This area is just not built to have so many people travelling through it. It's going to be gridlocked.
"When Wymott and Garth were built the residents were promised a lot of things which never came to fruition. So we will be looking to put forward proposals which will benefit the village and we don't want it to go through without promises being met this time.
"We feel it is going to go through whatever we say. But I believe everyone should let the Government know just what they think. We should use this consultation period to leave them in no doubt."
To take part in the public consultation process, go to: https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/proposed-new-prison-in-chorley/