A deal on the new entrance road to Cessnock Correctional Centre remains to be struck, with Cessnock City Council requesting a number of conditions be met before its endorses the State Government's preferred option.
The State Government has agreed to support and fund construction of a new access road connecting to Occident Street, Nulkaba, with the final road alignment to be determined through detailed engineering and negotiation with the Ministry of Health and a private land owner.
But at council's February 19 meeting, it asked for further discussions to be had about an alternate entrance at the rear of the cemetery on Kerlew Street - a solution put forward by the Nulkaba residents group (known as the Green Access Option group).
Council voted on March 18 to ask the Corrections Minister for written confirmation that the Occident Street entry (known as Option 3A in the Cessnock Correctional Complex Road Options Analysis report) is the only option the department will consider for a new access road to Cessnock Correctional Centre, and that the State Government will support and fund a number of conditions presented in a resolution passed at council's February 19 meeting.
The conditions (referred to at the meeting as items 6 and 7) included making sure the new route has minimal impact on private residences before it adjoins the State Road Network; sufficient security fencing and screening along the route to prohibit vehicle and pedestrian access near private residences; minimises traffic on council-maintained roads; safe access where the route joins the State Road Network and that any route is isolated from the local road network; and that a report be presented to council when the design is complete.
The resolution of February 19 asked council's general manager Lotta Jackson to engage with the Department of Corrections to confirm their intention to establish an access to the Cessnock Correctional Centre via Wine Country Drive, with discussions include using a woodland area at the rear of the cemetery on Kerlew Street (which the residents' group had proposed as an alternate solution to avoid rat-runs through their neighbourhood).
Ms Jackson met with the project manager on March 2, and said the outcome of the meeting was "to support or not support 3A".
The original recommendation put forward on March 18 asked councillors to note that Option 3A was the final option for the access road, and that council write to the Department of Corrections "stating their support or not" for 3A.
Councillors amended the recommendation to include the extra conditions as a compromise.
Labor councillor Di Fitzgibbon accused the government of "bullying" council into supporting its preferred option.
"After changing the planning laws and forcing this facility on us, they assured us that they could provide any necessary infrastructure upgrades," she said.
"Council took them at their word, and demanded they create a new entrance.
"There's no greater supporter of closing the Lindsay Street entrance than me, however I'm furious about the State Government bullying council into publicly endorsing their option."
Independent councillor Ian Olsen argued that council should still be advocating for the Nulkaba residents' preferred option through the woodland area.
"Lindsay Street was never my preferred option, it should have been closed years ago," he said.
"But 3A is not the preferred option of the residents of Nulkaba.
"Option 7 is what the residents want. What if they come back and say no? What are we going to do then? We should be standing up now."
The amended recommendation was passed 10 votes to three, with Cr Olsen and Liberal councillors Rod Doherty and Paul Dunn voting against it.
Residents group spokesperson Craig Findley said it was disappointing that an entry via the woodland area could not be negotiated, but was hopeful that mitigation measures could still be implemented.
"We need to maintain the pressure, where Corrections is continually brought to the table to make sure they meet those five criteria (from point 6) - particularly isolating it from local road network," he said.
"On the acceptance of those conditions (points 6 and 7), if it's followed, it is quite a good solution.
"But where does it leave us if they don't fund and support points 6 and 7?
"No-one in the Green Option Access group wants the entry left on Lindsay Street."
Cessnock MP Clayton Barr said while he has had verbal commitment from the minister's office that it is "open" to investigating such solutions for Option 3A, it wasn't as simple as converting it into writing.
"It hasn't been costed, there's no design work, no budget. It would be like writing a blank cheque," Mr Barr said.
Mr Barr said mitigation measures were "really critical" for the community of Nulkaba, but warned council of testing the government's goodwill.
"By law, and by the planning instrument, corrections have no responsibility to construct a new entry/exit," he said.
"The only reason they are willing to have a conversation is goodwill.
"My concern is that the delays and the posturing might compromise any of that goodwill.
"I'm frightened that it will all go pear-shaped, if we lose that goodwill now."