The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) was branded “The Ministry of Injustice” at a meeting which saw more than 500 residents, young and old, come together to demand a U-turn on plans to bring a super prison to Port Talbot.
Representatives from the ministerial department were grilled by the public at the Aberavon Beach Hotel in the event designed to give the public the chance to have their say on a bid to bring a category C jail to Baglan Moors , right next to housing and a school.
All seats were taken and there was standing room only in the meeting, organised by MP Stephen Kinnock – with the atmosphere particularly hostile towards MOJ construction manager Anna Evans, who fielded many of the questions from the floor.
Throughout the course of the meeting, many felt their questions were not being adequately answered, and there was frequent heckling, including phrases such as ‘absolute rubbish’ and ‘Ministry of Injustice’.
It led chairman of the meeting, Meyrick Sheen, to call for the meeting not to turn into a “shouting match”.
Ms Evans said: “We worked with the Welsh Government to identify a number of sites best value for the public purse.
“We identified two sites, Port Talbot and Felindre – and one of the key issues discounting Felindre is that site had just received a £6.87 million grant funding to develop a strategic business park with over three million of Welsh Government match funding.
“We felt there was potential to bring in key investment to the community of Port Talbot.”
Simon Harris, a resident of Baglan Moors argued insurers are putting up premiums already, airing concerns their lawns would be flooded if the prison is built on a floodplain – referencing the impact of a resource centre and OAP centre which have been built and caused problems already.
At the meeting on Tuesday night he also called for assurances that residents would be compensated.
Ms Evans said a third of the site will remain as grass land, with a sustainable urban drainage system put in place.
“We will only be building on two thirds of the land, the rest will be a drainage system,” she said.
Councillor Nigel Thomas Hunt asked why the plans were being pursued on a flood plain – accusing the MOJ of “running roughshod” over the planning department.
But Ms Evans insisted the plans would be subject to planning permission, and could not go any further without the green light from planners.
And referencing a question regarding the number of inmates, she said: “We have not said the prison will have 1,600 places.
“The new prison will have 1,000 to 1,600 prisoners and we are looking at the lower end of that.”
Mr Kinnock stated he had in writing that Felindre had come a “close second” in regards to prison location, but was discounted due to poor transportation service.
He said there should be three key arguments against the plan, highlighting health and safety, the economy and construction making it an “open and shut case”.
The MP argued there would be better access by to Felindre via junction 46, with the volume of traffic being far less.
He also said businesses in the area would “shut up shop” if the prison arrives, adding the impact of piledrivers on the proposed land in Port Talbot, a flood plain, would be very significant. He also vowed to “bang on the door” of minister Sam Gyimah until he visited the area to listen to concerns.
Andrew Benison, of Port Talbot Community Super Prison Protest Group, said: “Once there, it’s going to change the future of Port Talbot forever.
“Port Talbot is a quite bad area for drugs at the moment. If inmates come out and stay here it’s going to affect the demographic of the community.
“The visual impact is going to be a blot on the horizon and something people will look at with dismay. There are 5,065 children who go to school within a one mile radius of the prison. It would also be a strain on the health service, as it would have to deal with 1,600 extra people and the problems that are brought with it, like self harm.”
AM David Rees stressed residents need to pull together to get the MOJ to change their mind.
He said: “There are so many flaws to this plan. It’s not the correct place. This site is inappropriate for a prison and we need to make sure every chance we get they need to hear the same message. Go away.”
And AM Bethan Jenkins said: “We need to have ambition for the town of ours – and not accept this by people who have never been to Port Talbot.”
Ms Evans admitted she recognised the feeling in the room, adding: “I can feel the strength of feeling in the room from everybody here I understand that and I get that.”
One of the final statements came from young seven-year-old Mali Walker Hunt, who said the plans were “frightening her”, adding: I don’t like it because it is going to be right by my house.”