A Nulkaba residents' group has raised concerns about the NSW Government's preferred access route to Cessnock Correctional Centre, saying it would create "rat-runs" through the quiet streets of the village.
The government has agreed to support and fund construction of a new access road via Kerlew Street and Occident Street, after deeming Calvary/Health-owned land "unviable" due to the impact on critical Health infrastructure and the aged care facility.
A deferred mayoral minute regarding the access road will go to Cessnock City Council's meeting on Wednesday night.
It comes as the three-year, 1000-bed expansion project draws to a close, with the final stage of the project - a 280-bed minimum security facility - due to be opened mid-year.
Council's preferred position is to close the Lindsay Street entrance and that a new access is created via direct route from Wine Country Drive onto land owned by Hunter New England Health.
However, in a letter to Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent, corrections minister Anthony Roberts said after "lengthy consideration and consultation, these routes have been determined as unviable following discussions with the Ministry of Health who noted the impact on critical Health facilities".
Mr Roberts also said he has legal advice advising "that the existing 'right of access' over the Calvary site cannot be used as a vehicle access to the Correctional Centre".
Residents' group spokesperson Karen Shearer said the group's preferred option remains Calvary and NSW Health land, with an entrance off Wine Country Drive.
But if that is completely ruled out, the group has presented two new options via the rear of the cemetery that would see Kerlew Street closed at that intersection - to prevent traffic taking shortcuts through the streets of Nulkaba, including past a primary school and preschool.
These options would require the removal of a parcel of endangered ecological communities - including the Lower Hunter Spotted Gum and Hunter Lowland Redgum Forest - which Mr Roberts said caused this to be ruled out early in the process.
Biodiversity offset measures were included in the prison expansion approval process, which included the removal of 6.8 hectares of the Lower Hunter Spotted Gum - and Ms Shearer said such offsets could be included if the new road was to be built through the woodland.
The residents are also advocating for screening, fencing, lighting and security cameras, upgrading the intersection with Wine Country Drive, and that the eastern section of Kerlew Street be renamed (to avoid confusion for jail visitors) and transferred to the state government.
The residents' group's main concern is for local families, with a high number of young children living in Nulkaba.
Kerlew Street was used as a temporary access route to the prison complex for six weeks late last year, when the Lindsay Street entrance was undergoing drainage repairs, and residents say they witnessed anti-social activity including smoking, litter and cars being parked on their lawns.
The government's proposed access via Occident Street would require negotiation with the Department of Health and a private land owner.
Cessnock MP Clayton Barr said if that option does proceed, any work done outside of state government land (such as intersection treatments or road closures on Kerlew Street) would be a council decision.
Mr Barr said if Kerlew Street is chosen as the new access point, he was hopeful that a design that will have minimal impact on the local roads can be considered.
Mr Barr said while he was disappointed that access via Health land could not be granted, he "100% backed the minister", say it was an open and transparent process, with all options explored.
He said the combination of factors - including legal implications of trying to access Calvary land, the impact on user groups (including a drug treatment facility), the demolition of health infrastructure (including a kitchen and records building) and concerns over a blind spot on Wine Country Drive - collectively put Health land off the table.
"It's not one thing insurmountably, but collectively we're just not going to get there ... the time it would take, it's just not possible," he said.
Mr Barr said it now puts Cessnock council in a "really difficult position" - choosing a new entrance or leaving the entrance at Lindsay Street - but he was hopeful that once council makes a decision, things will progress quickly.
The mayoral minute was tabled at council's last meeting of 2019, and was to be dealt with at the first meeting of 2020 (February 5), but the residents requested an extension to compile more information to supply to the Department of Communities and Justice.
In the mayoral minute, Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent asks council to reaffirm its position "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".
Cr Pynsent also 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 calls on the Department of Corrections to select a route that has minimal impact on private residences before it adjoins the state road network; that sufficient security fencing and screening be installed along the route; that traffic on council-maintained roads is minimised and that safe access be maintained where the route joins the state road network.