A huge new prison could be built in Port Talbot
The jail, set for a site in Baglan, would create 200 jobs once opened and would require around 1,000 people to build
Plans for a new prison to be built in Port Talbot will be unveiled today as the government announces the locations of four new jails.
A publicly-owned site in Baglan will be home to a category C prison as the Government steps up its drive to reform the crisis-hit jail system.
Justice Secretary Liz Truss will also announce new jails will be built at three existing prison sites – Full Sutton in Yorkshire, Hindley in Wigan, Rochester in Kent – as part of a pledge to create up to 10,000 modern prison places by 2020.
The Baglan site is expected to create 200 new long-term jobs once it has been completed while the construction will lead to around 1,000 jobs.
The Ministry of Justice said final decisions on the new jails would be subject to planning approval, value for money and affordability.
The announcement is the latest step in a £1.3bn revamp of the estate first launched under Ms Truss’s predecessor, Michael Gove, amid concerns a number of facilities were overcrowded and run-down.
Politicians gave the plans a cautious welcome, with Aberavon MP Stephen Kinnock saying: “The building of a prison in Port Talbot would bring much-needed construction work to the local area and in the long term would mean more jobs for the day-to-day running of the prison.
“However we will need to look very closely at the planning application to ensure that it is sited in a suitable location, that local people and skills are utilised, and that local materials are central to the construction of the site.
“The Ministry of Justice must provide further information because the community must be on board. The onus is on the government to reach out and engage with us.
“But if these necessary safeguards are in place, and the community is part of the decision-making and construction process, then this is something that should be welcomed because the project could be a welcome boost for the local community and economy.”
Aberavon AM David Rees said while he welcomed the investment and potential for jobs brought about by the announcement he was concerned the site location will have an impact upon local residents and the nearby Ysgol Bae Baglan.
“It is important to ensure that the site is appropriate and suitable and to understand whether alternative sites in Port Talbot have been considered,” he said.
Is Baglan the right location for a prison?
“It is also critical to ensure that any lessons learnt from the building of HMP Berwyn in Wrexham are applied and that the Ministry of Justice commit to full meaningful public consultation to provide local communities with an opportunity to partake in the consideration of this development.”
Ministers are also planning to close the most dilapidated and outdated prison buildings, with a programme of valuation work being carried out to inform further decisions about the estate.
Plans to close and sell Victorian prisons were first mooted in 2015 but so far only HMP Holloway in north London has shut.
Announcements on further jail closures are expected later in the year.
A Prison Service spokeswoman said: “We are committed to transforming all prisons into places of safety and reform and, as part of our wholescale reforms, are investing £1.3bn to modernise the estate. This will include closing older prisons that are not for purpose and creating in their place high-quality, modern establishments,” the spokeswoman said.
“No decisions have been made about future prison closures beyond those which have already been announced.”
She said: “HMP Cardiff in my constituency is a Victorian prison, with a 45% rate of overcrowding, but I am told by the Prisons Minister that no decision has been taken about its future and that the new prison to be built in Port Talbot is not a replacement for Cardiff or for HMP Swansea.
“Neither has the Minister confirmed whether the new Port Talbot prison will be publicly or privately run.
“It is clear to me that the appointment of Savills as valuers is a precursor to selling the Cardiff Prison site.
“I will be demanding specific assurances from the government that prison staff, prisoners and access for families to visit will be the top priorities in decisions about HMP Cardiff’s future and, that if the site is to be sold, the full market rate will be achieved so the taxpayer, not private property investors, get the best deal.”
Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns said: “I am delighted that Port Talbot has been selected as a preferred location for one of the four newest additions to the UK’s prisons estate.
“Berwyn prison has already had a positive impact on the regional economy of North Wales.
“A new South Wales prison will bring its own economic opportunities – including new jobs and contracts for local suppliers, and will significantly accelerate the government’s aim of replacing old, uneconomic prisons with modern, more cost-effective facilities.
“I am pleased that Wales is leading the way in providing facilities designed with rehabilitation in mind as well as the traditional security which the public rightly expects.”
Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales West, Bethan Jenkins said: “Building a new prison in isolation to looking at new ways of helping to ensure people do not re-offend and to realise the error of their actions, and addressing why so many people with mental health problems are in prison, is a sign of bad government and poor strategy from the Tories.
“We need to look at prison reform, not just build new prisons and assume that it is the only answer. So I cannot warmly welcome this news today.
“Plaid Cymru has been calling for the devolution of these matters for some time. Decisions about Wales, for Welsh prisoners, should be made in Wales.
“The Ministry of Justice must answer key questions on this scheme. It’s vital that the safety of the local community will not be compromised by this plan.
There is a new super school in Baglan, and a new Welsh Language School is yet to be developed there.
“The area already has huge traffic problems that the Council are failing to deal with. What will throwing a prison in the mix mean?’
“Plaid Cymru has been critical of the HMP Berwyn superprison in Wrexham due its disproportionately large size and in particular, the pressure the huge number of inmates may put on the local NHS and other services.
“If this is to go ahead, assurances are needed on private sector involvement in the proposed Port Talbot prison. Evidence shows that when private companies are contracted to be responsible for prison security, the safety of both staff and inmates is compromised. This must not be allowed to happen.
“In the long run, Plaid Cymru remains committed to the devolution of the prison estate alongside the wider justice system.”