I beg to move,
That this House has considered the proposed new prison in Port Talbot.
Diolch yn fawr, Mr Brady. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
Wales will become one of the only countries in the world to be a mass importer of prisoners if the Westminster Government get their way and impose a super-prison on Port Talbot. It is not needed or wanted, nor is it the answer to the chaos in the English prison estate. I will focus on three key reasons why the Government must halt the imposition of that unwanted prison on the community of Baglan in Port Talbot. First, I will outline the big picture: Wales does not need more prison spaces. Secondly, I will look at the tangible effects it will have on a community already teetering on the brink of economic disaster. Finally, I will make the case that the prison fails to meet basic planning criteria, putting local residents and future inmates at huge and unnecessary risk.
As I am sure the Minister is aware, earlier this year the Ministry of Justice opened Europe’s biggest prison in north Wales—HMP Berwyn in Wrexham. Once fully operational, it will have the capacity to hold in excess of 2,100 male prisoners. That will already mean that there are 800 more spaces than inmates in the Welsh prison estate. Nevertheless, the UK Government are charging on with plans to develop a second mega-prison, which Wales does not need or want—this time in the south. The new prison planned in Port Talbot will hold up to 1,600 prisoners. It is not necessary to have won a Fields medal to work out that that would mean 2,400 places more than are required for Wales in Wales.
There is a distinct possibility that HMP Port Talbot is being built in anticipation of the Government’s closing Cardiff’s Victorian-built prison, but even taking into account the possible closure of HMP Cardiff, a surplus of some 1,600 prison places remains. Does the Minister believe that Wales is on the verge of a mass crimewave, or is he planning to import hundreds, perhaps thousands, of prisoners into Wales?
The new build is part of a UK Government-led drive to reform the crisis-hit prison system in England, which currently holds thousands of people more than it was designed for. Why is Wales to be adorned with another one of these monstrous prisons? The answer is obvious: Scotland has control over its own prison estate and justice system, and so does Northern Ireland. Wales does not, so at the whim of Westminster it is subject to becoming a penal colony for English prisoners.
I oppose the whole concept of these so-called super-prisons, in which hundreds of inmates are housed. The left-leaning Howard League and the Centre for Social Justice, founded by the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith), agree that such prisons do not succeed in rehabilitation. I am afraid it all comes down to penny-pinching. HMP Berwyn will be the cheapest prison to run in England and Wales, according to the Government’s own forecasts. Wales is an affordable penal colony.
The second, and undoubtedly more important, issue I want to press upon the Minister is the potentially devastating effects the imposition of the prison could have on the community. I welcome the work of Councillor Nigel Thomas Hunt and Bethan Jenkins AM, who have been very diligent in this matter. Both are passionate, locally grounded activists who spent months gathering evidence, much of which I am using today, to refute the Government’s case for imposing the prison on their communities.
As I am sure we are all aware, Port Talbot has been through some tough times of late, but the answer is unequivocally not to turn Wales’ industrial powerhouse into a penal colony on an industrial scale. The primary argument invoked by both the Government here and the Labour Administration in Cardiff is that of jobs, but a little scrutiny shows that case to be very flimsy. The Minister may have more up-to-date estimates, but at the time of the prison’s announcement, we were told that HMP Port Talbot would create about 200 jobs. However, if Swansea and/or Cardiff prisons were to close, in keeping with the UK Government’s policy of closing old prisons and their justification for building new super-prisons, Port Talbot prison would not even replace the jobs lost in other prisons.
In total, HMP Swansea and HMP Cardiff employ almost 600 staff. If they were both to close and be subsumed by a prison in Port Talbot, there would be a net loss of 400 jobs, according to the Government’s own estimates. To put it another way, the Government’s main justification for building this super-prison—the need to modernise the prison estate—will result in the closure of other Welsh prisons and a net loss of jobs, undermining HMP Port Talbot’s purported main benefit for the community. I warn the Minister that if he even countenances the notion that any jobs created by the super-prison will make up for the Government’s pathetic response to the steel crisis, he is unlikely to be met warmly on the streets of Port Talbot.
That is before we get to the issues surrounding the prison’s location. There are 11 schools within a one-mile radius of the site. Not only does that pose an exceptional safety risk, but it means that thousands of children will grow up in the shadow of that totem of failure. The Minister has already confirmed that inmates may be considered for “temporary release” into the community. It is clear that many prisoners moved from across the UK are expected to end up staying in the local area after their custodial sentences are served. Indeed, their families may well move to follow them while they are serving their sentences. Those who are imposing this prison on Wales must acknowledge and understand the additional cost to Wales in terms of healthcare and policing, as well as the additional burden on the community of Baglan when families move to the area following inmates and inmates stay in the community after their release. Will the Minister outline whether the Government expect to offer any kind of compensation to the local emergency, health and other public services, which will face a higher burden if the prison is built?
Of course, we must not forget the role that the Labour Welsh Government have played. The Baglan site is in fact owned by the economically inept Welsh Government in Cardiff. In reality, the Labour Government in Cardiff could stop this now, and I implore the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), who is here today, to lobby his party colleagues in Cardiff to do so.
Finally, I would like to inform the Minister of a technical but crucial stumbling block for the proposed prison. Council officials have confirmed that the proposed site is on a C1 floodplain, putting it in the highest bracket of flood risk areas. Under the Welsh Government’s planning regulations, as laid out in technical advice note 15, the proposed Baglan Moors site is wholly unsuitable and may contravene devolved Welsh planning law. The prison increases the chances of flooding for more than 1,000 homes in the area. Questions must surely be asked about the safety of building a prison in an area so susceptible to flooding. Think of the huge implications a flood would have for those caring and maintaining order within the facility. Equally, it has the potential to create huge obstacles for emergency services—those who would be responding to incidents in the area—which would in turn endanger staff and inmates.
I appreciate that that is a piece of technical Welsh planning legislation, which the Minister might not be familiar with, but I hope he will take the chance to review the issue and recognise that the Baglan Moors site is fundamentally not suitable for a super-prison. Given the clear lack of need, the impact on the local community and the serious planning issues the prison faces, the Minister must surely recognise that Baglan Moors is not a suitable site for a super-prison.
Port Talbot is a proud place with a proud history and resilient people, but Westminster will not be forgiven if it turns Wales’ largest industrial centre into an industrial-sized penal colony. Diolch yn fawr iawn.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I thank the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) for securing this debate.
The proposals for a new prison in my constituency have caused consternation among many local residents. Their frustration has been exacerbated by the Minister’s reluctance to visit the constituency and to hear the concerns of residents directly from them. Back in March, I warned the Minister that if he did not engage comprehensively with the local community, speculation would grow. Six months on, the Minister has failed to engage with the community, with the result that speculation is indeed rife, and there is guesswork and hearsay. When the Government fail to give us the information we need, what else do they expect?
Every piece of information we have had on the proposals has had to be teased out of the Ministry of Justice by letters, questions in the House and written parliamentary questions. Fundamentally, the argument has come down to why the land in the Baglan industrial estate was selected by the Ministry when a far more suitable location is just 10 minutes down the M4 at Felindre. The Minister said that the Felindre site came a close second in the evaluation that the Ministry of Justice conducted. I strongly urge him and his officials to look at it again. The site meets the Ministry’s criteria and ticks boxes that Baglan does not.
My argument has three key components, of which the first is health and safety. The road infrastructure around the Baglan site is already well used, and at peak periods in the morning and at the end of the school and working days, traffic comes to a standstill from the sheer volume of vehicles on the surrounding roads and the M4. Port Talbot is a well known pinch point on the M4, and as recently as two years ago junction 41 underwent a trial closure. Given the proximity of the proposed prison to a large residential area and to local schools, with traffic movements at peak periods creating bottlenecks and no alternative route to alleviate the problem, should there be a serious incident at the prison, during those peak periods emergency service vehicles would struggle to attend, potentially putting the lives of prisoners and prison officers at risk.
The Felindre site, on the other hand, has good access from the M4, with a dedicated exit at junction 46 and its own access road along the B4489. The volume of traffic dissipates by the time it reaches junction 46, making access for emergency vehicles easier in the event of a serious incident. The site is also much closer to a full accident and emergency unit, whereas the hospital close to the Baglan site has only a minor injuries unit.
The second component of my argument relates to the economy. The Minister indicated to me that he ruled out the Felindre site because it had been awarded European Union funding for business park development. But the Baglan industrial site is part of the Port Talbot enterprise zone, created at the height of the steel crisis to encourage business activity in the area. The steel crisis demonstrated the need for the labour market in Port Talbot to diversify and not to be so reliant on the steel industry. The creation of the enterprise zone and the enhanced capital allowance that came with it, which the site has, are key components in encouraging business not reliant on the steel industry to come to the area. A prison simply does not fit into that objective and would undo the hard work carried out to make the area attractive to business. The land should therefore be used for the purposes for which it was intended and not for the construction of a prison. Conversely, the proposals are having the opposite effect on businesses in the industrial estate, a number of which have expressed to me and publicly that they will leave the area if the prison is given the green light.
Thirdly, there is the matter of construction. The Felindre site is more suitable because of its status as a brownfield site; the Baglan site is a greenfield site and it is marshland. Were the Government to push ahead with building on the Baglan site, they would incur substantial additional cost by having to build on marshland. Businesses that built on other parts of the land had to pile-drive to a considerable depth to put down foundations, only to construct buildings considerably lighter than a prison. That would have huge consequences for neighbouring properties and businesses, and the costs would balloon. The Felindre site has already been developed and the Government would encounter none of those problems there. The site already has developed infrastructure works and land reclamation, as well as the good access links I mentioned.
The Felindre site offers the Minister the same benefits as the Baglan one, but with the additional benefits that I have set out. The fact that the Felindre site is further away from residential areas and schools also means that it does not carry with it the same hurdles that the Baglan site does, certainly in terms of local community consent. I therefore conclude by urging the Minister to guarantee that he will go back to his Department and look again at Felindre as a more appropriate site to locate the prison.
To give some context, we are investing £1.3 billion to create an additional 10,000 “new for old” prison places with better education facilities and other rehabilitative services to help prisoners turn their lives around. In Wales, as has been mentioned, in February we opened HMP Berwyn to provide 2,000 uncrowded and efficient prison places. We have also begun work on building a new houseblock at HMP Stocken, re-roled HMP Durham and HMP Holme House, announced our plans to redevelop HMP Glen Parva and former HMP Wellingborough, and announced a programme of four further builds, which includes Port Talbot in south Wales.
The prisons being built in Wales are therefore part of a much broader context, which is about improving our prison estate throughout the entire country. As well as creating modern prisons that are fit for the 21st century, the proposed new builds will act as a boost to regional economies across the country. They will create up to 2,000 jobs in the construction and manufacturing industries, and new opportunities for local businesses.
The figures show that last Friday the prison population stood at 86,235, which is up 1,268 on September last year. Alongside building new prisons, surely this Government should be prioritising a reduction in the prison population per se.
Of course. We would all like the prison population not to be as high as it is, but punishment must fit the crime, and if people commit offences, they should be sentenced to prison. Of the two best ways to reduce the prison population, the first is to cut reoffending so that the one in two people who leave our prisons and reoffend are stopped from doing so, which means that we need modern, purpose-built prisons that can deliver education and employment training. Secondly, we must stop the conveyor belt from low-level crime to custody, which means reforming our probation services. We are working on those things in the Department.
I am grateful to the Minister for mentioning the probation service. I understand that a review of probation is ongoing, in particular the transformation of rehabilitation, but I have not had the opportunity to ask whether there is a date for it to be published.
The probation service review is ongoing. As the hon. Lady may know, the results of the first part were published in a written ministerial statement just before the summer recess, outlining the additional investment that has gone into the probation companies. We will be publishing the next set of results as and when they are ready. I cannot give her a firm date, but it will be shortly.
The substance of the debate is the Port Talbot location of the proposed prison, as discussed by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). When assessing where to build new prisons, the Ministry of Justice worked closely with the Welsh Government to identify suitable sites for a new prison build in Wales. We undertook a comprehensive evaluation of more than 20 sites in south Wales, ensuring that various factors were taken into consideration, such as preference for sites located along the M4 corridor because of their accessibility and the travel time benefits they would bring.
After careful consideration, Port Talbot was selected as the best potential site for a new category C prison build in Wales. That was for a number of reasons, including the capacity of local infrastructure to support the prison and the potential to maximise the benefits of investment in the local community. In addition, the site is owned by the Welsh Government, who are supportive of our work to progress these plans. As I mentioned, supply and demand for prison places are misaligned. For example, we do not have enough category C prison places in south Wales; the proposed prison at Port Talbot would address that shortfall.
The Minister began to explain the infrastructure decision and why the Baglan site was considered to have better infrastructure than the Felindre site, but he did not give any more detail. As I said, junction 46 gives far easier access than junction 41, so why was Felindre considered to have poorer infrastructure than Baglan?
Infrastructure is not just motorway access but the local infrastructure of the area. For a category C prison, which would effectively be a resettlement prison, ease of access to employment is important, so that prisoners can be released on temporary licence and come back easily. It is also important that local people can work in the prison without having to commute long distances, not to mention ease of access for prisoners’ families to visit them. All those things are taken into account when we look at local infrastructure.
Will the Minister give way?
Order. I should make it clear that the rules of procedure do not allow for Opposition spokespeople to participate in half-hour debates—they are exactly the same as the rules that apply to Adjournment debates in the main Chamber.
Thank you, Mr Brady—as ever, you are hot on procedure.
A modern prison at Port Talbot will support the rehabilitative culture that is essential to making communities safer. A fit-for-purpose establishment will ensure that families can visit inmates in a relaxed atmosphere, which is particularly important for children. We will ensure, as far as possible, that local labour is sought from Port Talbot and the surrounding area and that local businesses benefit. As a guide, in the design and build of HMP Berwyn, around £83 million was spent with small and medium-sized enterprises in addition to the £38.2 million that was spent on local businesses. The construction of HMP Berwyn provided jobs for unemployed people, apprenticeships and more than 2,000 days of educational work experience for local young people.
Based on the success of HMP Berwyn, where we estimate that up to 1,000 jobs will be created, the new prison at Port Talbot could generate up to 500 jobs and contribute £11 million a year to the regional economy. Some 66% of HMP Berwyn’s staff came from the local area.
We are talking about job creation and enterprise. What does the Minister advise me to say to local businesses in the Baglan area that have already said that they will shut up shop if the prison goes ahead, which would mean the loss of hundreds of local jobs?
The hon. Gentleman passionately represents the views of his constituents. As he is aware, there is a statutory consultation process. We have extended the time available for that consultation, which will give us the opportunity to listen to the concerns of residents and respond appropriately. When a change of this scale is proposed, it is not unusual to get the kind of reaction that he has received. The onus is on the Ministry of Justice to explain to local residents what is happening and what the benefits are, and we will do that as we go through this process.
I know that the hon. Gentleman would like me to personally engage in this process, but the Prisons Minister does not have expertise in taking residents through a consultation—no MP does. However, experts in the Department have been through this process in other parts of the country, including Berwyn, and they will take his constituents through their understandable concerns.
The Minister is being generous with his time. We have invited him to a public meeting in Port Talbot on 20 September, but he has said he is unable to attend. Can he confirm that someone from his team can attend that meeting?
There will definitely be officials from the Ministry of Justice there. I want us to go through this process, as we do with every other prison in the country. The Minister cannot just start popping around the country running consultations for all the new prisons we are building, but the hon. Gentleman has exchanged letters with me all summer and my door is always open for him to come and represent the views of his constituents, as he has done by raising the issues here. I promise that I will take everything he raises on board. Contrary to what he said about having to winkle out answers from the Department, he has used all the formal channels available to a Member of Parliament, and I dare say that he has received a response every time he has made an inquiry about this prison.
We are obviously focused on infrastructure and the benefits for the community. We are working with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Infrastructure and Projects Authority to develop innovation in the construction and delivery of new prison buildings. That is in line with the UK industrial strategy and will create new job sectors in the industry.
We have touched on stakeholder engagement, which is important. As I said, we are engaging with the Welsh Government and Members of Parliament, and with Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council to develop its plans for the Port Talbot site. We are pleased to have had the support of the leader of the council, Councillor Rob Jones, and the Welsh Government throughout the process.
What consideration has the Minister’s Department given to technical advice note 15 and the fact that the site is on a C1 floodplain?
All those issues will be flushed out during the consultation process. It is not in the Department’s interest to build a prison on a floodplain if that is a serious technical constraint. We should leave that to the experts to decide; I am not an expert and neither is the hon. Lady. The consultation and all the analysis will have to run their course, as they would in the build of any prison.
We value the contributions of local stakeholders in helping to shape the site’s development. As I have said, we will have two days of public engagement. The first event will focus on the statutory planning processes and will be a key avenue for residents to make representations about our proposals and for the Ministry to help residents to understand our plans for the site. In addition, the statutory process requires a 28-day public consultation prior to the planning application being submitted, after which the development proposals will be subject to the standard 13-week planning process. We have not even got to the planning application stage yet; there will be many opportunities for residents to contribute, to help shape the proposals and raise objections to the process.
I know that the hon. Member for Aberavon, who is an assiduous constituency MP, will hold his own public engagement event on 20 September. I welcome the interest in his plans, and I will speak to my officials to ensure that he gets the support that he needs for that event. I appreciate that some in the community are concerned about the creation of a prison at Port Talbot. We will work with the community as the project progresses, using the lessons we learned from the prison we built at Berwyn, to mitigate those concerns. We will continue to work with the Welsh Government, who remain committed to the project on the Port Talbot site, and we will work closely with them when developing the planning event to address the local community’s key concerns.
Although it is too early to give an estimate of the cost of designing and building the new prison, we will ensure best value for money for taxpayers. Funding arrangements for health and police services were mentioned; we will engage with relevant public sector partners to ensure that they are able to develop suitable plans for the new prison.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) on securing the debate, and the hon. Member for Aberavon on bringing up important issues that need to be aired with projects of this kind. I certainly do not see that as a nuisance; we need to go through this process and listen to residents. I hope that as we do, the work that is already under way to make our prisons true places of reform and rehabilitation will become apparent and show what this site can deliver for both prisoners and the wider community.
Question put and agreed to.
[Mr Graham Brady in the Chair]