Robyne Cuerel

Locals fire questions during jail information session

THE first public information session on NSW Corrective Services' "flagship" development has proven to be a heated one, both figuratively and literally.

About 120 members of the public sweated through the first of two hour-long sessions at the Tucabia Hall yesterday, in which Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin and Infrastructure NSW project director Greg Lake outlined plans for the new Grafton correctional centre, and discussed opportunities for community involvement.

It was revealed planning approval studies were being undertaken this week, and that Infrastructure NSW had initiated discussions with the Aboriginal Land Council to discuss possible implications.

But it was the questions firing from the public that took up a larger part of the meeting.

Major concerns appeared to be the lack of basic services to the site, notably sewerage, fair compensation for farmer Ben Jones in regard to the compulsory acquisition of his land, and whether the site was settled before a development application to build his house was approved by council.

When Mr Lake said he didn't think a public forum was the right place to talk about the details of the process of property acquisition negotiations, it was met with a chorus of forced laughter from the room.

But the project director said he would endeavour to be as open as possible with members of the public at all stages of the project, and to keep them informed with developments as they happened.

He also promised to tell people what he could, at a later date, about the other potential sites looked at so they could identify why the one selected was a "standout". As for the DA approval of Mr Jones's land, he said as far as he was aware, the DA was approved before the site selection process was completed.

"We didn't hang around once we picked the site, we wanted to get the information out quickly so we could start this process," he said.

Construction on the 195-hectare site at Lavadia is expected start in 2017, allowing for completion in 2019.

Mr Severin said that while he hadn't been to the site of the jail during his Grafton visit, he was confident it was the right place to undertake the "largest single project in prisons ever done in New South Wales."

And he said there were many ways they could come to a compromise with aggrieved landholders.

"For us it's acknowledged with any project there will be people who are aggrieved but what we need to do, and the only thing I can do is try to be as open and transparent as I possibly can.

"But it a fantastic project. I'm very happy the government saw the best opportunity to create a large precinct rather than take a boutique-style approach, and in terms of capacity there is potential for it to be expanded further."

Mr Severin said that while they were not yet part of the project, there was scope in the future to build two more facilities on the site; a 300 bed multi-classification facility for women and 400 extra beds for men.

"The market was clearly indicating that you get a much better value for money if you scale up early, rather than come back later and do it," he said.

Following the meeting, local farmer and livestock transporter Craig Pigg said while he would have liked the project to go to a four-option process to determine the location, it was perhaps time for the community to focus on what they could get out of it.

"We might just have to work with it so we've got to look at the positives. We might get a better road out of it."

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