Cessnock mayor says NSW government will not accept council's preferred new jail entry route

CESSNOCK council voted on Wednesday night to defer consideration of a new entrance to the Cessnock Correctional Centre after affected residents complained they had not been given time to consider the latest plan to move the jail access out of the centre of the town.

Mayor Bob Pynsent had gone to the final council meeting of the year with a Mayoral Minute that would have empowered the council's general manager, Lotta Jackson, "to engage with the Department of Corrections to confirm their suggested solution to establish an access to the Cessnock Correctional Centre via Wine Country Drive".

Although "the solution" is not identified in the minute, Cr Ian Olsen and others told Australian Community Media that the government plan was to enter the jail from Kerlew Street, Nulkaba, a few hundred metres north of the council's preferred position, which was to use a road through the former Allandale aged care home.

Allandale was taken over by the Catholic-run Little Company of Mary in 2002, and runs the Calvary Cessnock Retirement Centre from part of the site.

The council has been pushing to have the jail entrance taken off council-funded local roads for at least three years and in February this year, Cr Pynsent said the debate had been going on for too long.

 Minister for Counter Terrorism and Corrections, Anthony Roberts, Corrective Services Commisioner Peter Severin,, Federal Labor MP for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon, Cessnock Mayor Bob Pynsent, Corrective Services Governor Simon Raper.

Minister for Counter Terrorism and Corrections, Anthony Roberts, Corrective Services Commisioner Peter Severin,, Federal Labor MP for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon, Cessnock Mayor Bob Pynsent, Corrective Services Governor Simon Raper.

"Our residents should not be footing the bill for the ongoing road maintenance costs of a NSW Government facility," he said at the time.

In Wednesday night's minute, Cr Pynsent conceded that the access was a NSW government decision and that Corrections Minister Anthony Roberts had told him at a meeting last month that the "Health land access proposal would not progress".

The minute said Cessnock Labor MP Clayton Barr had told the Cessnock Correctional Centre Consultative Committee last week why the proposal was not going ahead.

Although the minute did not name the "preferred route", a leaflet in the name of a consultative committee member, distributed to residents near the existing entrance, said the committee had been told on December 3 that the new permanent entrance would be via Occident Street, off Kerlew Street.

"This is good news for Mavis and Lindsay streets but not so good for those living on the other side of Calvary," the leaflet said.

ACCESS: Occident Street, via Kerlew Street has been flagged as a potential new access point for Cessnock Correctional Centre.

ACCESS: Occident Street, via Kerlew Street has been flagged as a potential new access point for Cessnock Correctional Centre.

Resident Karen Shearer, who represents Nulkaba on the consultative committee, said Kerlew Street was a local road and residents feared that decisions would be made over the Christmas break without them having a say.

Ms Shearer said she was pleased to see the mayoral minute deferred, as it would give residents time to make an informed decision.

Cr Olsen's call for a deferral was seconded by Labor councillor Di Fitzgibbon.

Cr Olsen confirmed that the vote to defer was carried by eight votes to five, with Cr Pynsent and Labor councillors Melanie Dagg, Jay Suvaal, Darrin Gray and Mark Lyons voting against the deferral.

Cr Olsen said the NSW government had spent "billions of dollars" expanding the jail but was refusing to contribute anything towards the cost of the sorts of road upgrades that the resultant extra traffic demanded.

A new 400-bed prison opened at the Cessnock complex in January 2018, and a 330-bed facility opened in May this year, with another 240-bed prison due for completion early next year.

Cessnock Councillor Ian Olsen speaking at a community meeting on the jail's expansion in August 2016, with Cessnock MP Clayton Barr looking on. Picture: Simone De Peak

Cessnock Councillor Ian Olsen speaking at a community meeting on the jail's expansion in August 2016, with Cessnock MP Clayton Barr looking on. Picture: Simone De Peak

Text of the mayoral minute

That Council:

1. Notes that the access to the Cessnock Correctional Centre is a decision for the State Government and the Department of Corrections;

2. Reaffirms that Council's position is that access to the Correctional Centre at Lindsay Street/Mavis Street be closed and that a new access is created via direct route from Wine Country Drive onto land owned by Hunter New England Health;

3. Notes that on a meeting on 12 November 2019 with Minister for Corrections Anthony Roberts and Member for Cessnock Clayton Barr, the Minister outlined concerns with the proposed route through Hunter New England Health land. Following this meeting the Member for Cessnock addressed a meeting of the Cessnock Correctional Centre Consultative Committee on 6 December 2019 and outlined the reasons why the Health Land Access Proposal would not progress;

4. Requests the General Manager engage with the Department of Corrections to confirm their suggested solution to establish an access to the Cessnock Correctional Centre via Wine Country Drive; and

5. Calls on the Department of Corrections to meet the following conditions when selecting their preferred access route:

* That access to the Correctional Centre is via a route that has minimal impact on private residences before it adjoins the State Road Network;

* Sufficient security fencing and screening be installed along the route to prohibit vehicle and pedestrian access near private residences;

* The route minimises traffic on Cessnock Council maintained roads; and

* That safe access be maintained where the route joins the State Road Network.

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