It’s official – Wollongong City Council will fight the NSW Government’s idea to build a new correctional centre at Kembla Grange.
On Monday, in front of a public gallery packed with members of the activist group Residents Against Dapto Jail, six councillors joined forces to put forward a notice of motion recording that the city stands against the state proposal.
In urging the remaining seven of their colleagues to join their objection, David Brown, Janice Kershaw, Chris Connor, Dom Figliomeni, Cath Blakey and Tania Brown highlighted “overwhelming” community opposition as well as a list of technical reasons why the jail was not suited to the site earmarked by the government.
Falling within the fast-growing urban development area of West Dapto, the land was too close to homes and could have other industrial uses linked to the growth of Port Kembla, the councillors’ motion said.
Speaking first, Dapto-based councillor Vicky King said she would be happy to put her name to the motion, as the jail was “inappropriate” and went against all council planning.
Independent Dom Figliomeni said he had been against the jail from the outset, and did not need more information from the NSW Government about the location due to is proximity to homes.
However, he said he would like to see the council work with Corrective Services to look into other potential locations within the Wollongong LGA “because we do need those jobs”.
Liberal councillor Cameron Walters said he had been “inspired” by the community response and would base his vote on the loud opinions of many residents who had contacted him over the past several months to oppose the proposal.
“I don’t believe the current site is the right location,” he said.
But, like Cr Figliomeni, he said councillors should not reject a jail outright and proposed the city work with the state to find a more suitable site within the region due to the “net benefits” it could bring.
In contrast, Labor’s Chris Connor said he did not think there was anywhere in the city appropriate for a jail, as it would give Wollongong a reputation as a prison town; he also noted there had been widespread opposition to the proposal from people living outside Dapto.
Greens councillor Mithra Cox agreed, saying the government instead needed to do more to stop the growing prison population.
Eventually, councillors did not support the idea of finding a new site within Wollongong and – to cheers from the gallery – unanimously voted to oppose the jail.
The councillors join a chorus of more than 14,000 residents who have signed a petition to say it should not be built at Kembla Grange.
However, it is unclear whether the city’s view will hold sway with NSW Corrective Services as it makes its decision on whether its proposal is feasible.
Kiama MP Gareth Ward said the government would “welcome any sensible and rational arguments”, but believed councillors should put forward alternative prison sites.
“If councillors are genuinely interested in job creation, then they should come forward with another site,” he said. “The council has access to lots of property records, and I would like to think that they would ask staff to look into an alternative location in Wollongong.”
Previously, council staff have noted that the proposed prison is not permitted under the city’s existing zonings at Kembla Grange, but that the state could make the use permissible through a State Environmental Planning Policy.
“If the proposal progresses, it is likely that the state will be the consent authority, and council will be able to make a submission,” staff have advised councillors.