THE expected closure of the main entrance to Cessnock jail as part of expansion plans has been welcomed by residents who for years have complained about heavy traffic caused by the prison.
But the city’s mayor, Bob Pynsent, is yet to receive a formal guarantee from Corrections Minister David Elliott that the state government will close the gate on Lindsay Street, moving the entrance to Wine Country Drive, ahead of Thursday’s release of the Review of Environmental Factors report.
Cr Pynsent described a meeting with Mr Elliott on Monday as “positive”, despite receiving “no detail” on whether the government would address council’s specific concerns about the impact of the expansion on public infrastructure.
“[Mr Elliott] wasn’t giving away very much at all in regard to detail, but he opened the door to discussing issues raised in the REF with him,” he said. “The minister wanted to hear what our main issues over the expansion were.”
The expansion would make Cessnock home to the state’s largest prison, with a population of 1800 maximum and minimum security inmates.
It has been fiercely opposed by the community over safety and infrastructure concerns.
But the latest twist, revealed by the Fairfax Media on Sunday, is that the government is prepared to make concessions.
Chief among those is the mooted closure of the Lindsay Street entrance.
Lindsay Street resident Vicki West said the entrance’s closure would be a win for community pressure.
“It’s good news for our street,” she said.
Cessnock prison guards are also supportive of the Lindsay Street entrance being closed.
The chairman of the guards’ union, Paul Jones, said “everyone is in favour” of a new entry point.
“Not only the local residents want it, but it's better for us because we don’t want trucks going through suburban streets,” he said.
Mr Jones said he believed the state government was now taking a “wider view” on the expansion by taking on board community feedback.
“They’ve listened to the community, which is a good thing, that’s a plus,” he said. “I know our GM is making every effort to consult with the community.”
The government is unlikely to revise its prison population forecasts for Cessnock.
Cessnock MP Clayton Barr told the Newcastle Herald on Sunday he was not channelling his opposition into securing a reduction in the number of new inmates. Likewise, Cr Pynsent said he was focussed on getting the “best possible deal”, and is not totally opposed to the expansion.