North East Wales

Wrexham super-prison neighbours divided over site

Land near the former Firestone factory, Wrexham Industrial Estate
Image caption The former Firestone factory was announced as the site for a super-prison on Wednesday

It has been hailed as the £250m super-prison that could employ 1,000 people and bring £23m a year to the north Wales economy.

But would you want the UK's biggest prison on your doorstep?

Opinion is divided in Pentre Maelor, Wrexham, where some residents could overlook the jail, which will have room for up to 2,000 inmates.

Pentre Maelor's housing estate sits across the road from the former Firestone factory, the site announced for the prison on Wednesday.

Two venues were submitted for consideration on Wrexham Industrial Estate.

One piece of land was privately-owned by Kingmoor Park Ltd. The other was the site of the former Firestone factory, now owned by the Welsh government.

Kingmoor Park had told BBC Wales last week it was probably "out of the running" and had optioned much of the land to a company wanting to build a new power station.

It meant it was no surprise when the Ministry of Justice announced the Welsh government's site had been chosen.

But the community of Pentre Maelor has mixed feelings about having the facility across the road by 2017.

According to community councillor Ray Squire, most people do not want it.

"There are some people in favour of it but they have a misconception that there's going to be jobs for people here. Most of the estate are totally opposed to it," he said.

"There are ladies here who are widows and they are absolutely petrified. It's going to be the biggest prison in this country.

"It's apparently going to be four storeys high. They can put as much screening as they want, but how do you screen something that big? It's still going to be a prison."

Mr Squire is not convinced about claims the prison could bring local job opportunities.

Image caption Ray Squire says most people are opposed to the jail

"People say it's going to bring so much money into Wrexham - how?" he said.

"Is it going to be a tourist attraction that people come and look at? I don't think so.

"If it's going to bring local jobs, fine, but I don't see it. I don't see the wealth. If it was factories going there then there would be local jobs definitely.

"But the main jobs - prison officers and people working in administration - are not going to go to people with no qualifications."

Just down the road though, neighbour Charles Williams says he and his wife are not against the prospect of a prison.

"Long term, we don't think it will affect us," he said.

"The first thought that came into some people's heads was that it would de-value their properties. Some people are in fear of break-outs.

"But the obvious positive is employment for this area. The area has been devoid of development for decades.

"After Firestone left we have had the promises of new money - new this, new that - but finally there's actually going to be something.

"Local employment - that's got to be a good thing."

Marjorie Billington, 74, has lived in Pentre Maelor for 37 years.

She said she was not against the prison.

"I think it will bring a lot of work to the area during the building of it and also when it's up and running," she said.

"I don't think there will be any prisoners running around. I should imagine they will have tight security."

Image caption Charles Williams hopes for local job opportunities

Another pensioner though, who did not want to be named, said: "The prisoners are going to be in there, but what about the people who come to visit them?

"What sort of people will they be? Are they going to be walking past our houses to catch buses in and out?

"There's going to be a lot more traffic. There's a lot to think about and I think most people are against it."

Janet Crowther, 57, was born in Pentre Maelor and has lived there all her life.

She said: "I'm not interested in the price of houses. My concern is that it will be four storeys high - I'll be able to wave to them.

"As far as safety goes, I live on my own. There are kids here as well."

She added: "I love this place. It's precious to me. I remember it being all farmland.

"There are beautiful wild flowers growing in the site where the prison's going to be.

"I don't think people want this, but they don't talk like they used to.

"I tried to suggest clubbing together to buy a parcel of the land ourselves to stop it going through, but a local businessman has been trying for years to do that and he wasn't successful.

Economic benefit

"The sign which advertises the land says it's industrial land. A prison's not industrial, is it?

"A new road into the industrial estate was recently built.

"People have been saying a new road was needed for years, but nothing happened. The only reason they built the road was for the prison.

"They're 30 years too late - all the industry's gone."

As well as bringing an economic benefit and addressing issues of a shortage of space in the prison population, a north Wales jail has been seen as providing a location closer to home for inmates' families.

The UK government announced in June that north Wales was the chosen site of a proposed Category C super-prison which would have room for 2,000 inmates.

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