We want the old jail, but we want them to pay for it
WITH A new jail under construction since 2015, it was revealed that the NSW government sought the interest of Clarence Valley Council to take on the former jail site in Grafton in a phone call this month.
Prompted by a phone call inquiry, council general manager Ashley Lindsay presented a confidential report from the NSW Department of Corrections and Department of Planning with regard to the jail site to this week’s council meeting, but recommended that council was not in a position to take on the site.
Following discussion and a motion ruled out of order about whether council could seek feedback from Dubbo council, who administer the historic Dubbo jail to the loss of approximately $300,000 a year, councillors agreed with the general manager’s position, but were keen to keep the door of negotiation open.
Many of the councillors who spoke for an amended motion, adding that council were not in a position at this time, also took aim at the state government for the lateness of the approach to council.
Under questioning from councillors, Mr Lindsay said that the government were keen to get a response to their phone enquiry, but he could not provide councillors an amount that the government would offer for the site, telling them it would need to be dealt with in confidence.
This raised questions from councillor Karen Toms, who asked why it wasn’t included in the confidential report provided by the government.
“Because it’s not in writing,” Mr Lindsay replied.
Mr Lindsay responded to further questions justifying why he believed council was not in the position to take on the historic jail site, despite a groundswell of support from the community, and member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis.
“As an organisation we’ve just spent four years trying to reduce our footprint of assets we hold,” he said.
“This is a significant asset for council to take responsibility of without significant support from the state government or private benefactors to get involved.
“It’s got lots of hurdles for us to get through before we are in a position to take responsibility for the site in whatever for that might be.”
Councillors were in agreeance with the motion of their position to not take on the jail at this time, but spoke of the need to be at the forefront of future negotiations once further information was available.
Speaking for his motion, Cr Clancy said he believed that council needed to be partners in the future of the jail if they could, but we can’t afford to take on the massive maintenance costs.
Cr Lysaught agreed, pointing out that council had struggled to comply with the Fit for the Future requirements.
“If we took it on, it could be a noose around our necks.”
Cr Ellem said that the site would need to be gifted to council or sold at a “peppercorn fee”, and said that a figure of around $10 million to cover the work needed to get the site in an operational state would be needed in a fund from the state government.
Cr Baker took aim at the government for what he described as them coming “late to the table”, and said that while he recognised the community enthusiasm for the redevelopment of the sites, asked how they expected it to be funded.
“I hear questions asked … about how do we improve our operating ratio, but we don’t do it by taking on a huge liability without knowing how it’s going to be funded into the future,” he said.
“It would be quite imprudent for council to take the bait and say we want this no matter what.”
“the proper position now is to allow this run its course, allow the appropriate state people to tell us what they want, so that we can convey that to the public.
“It might turn out that the public are very enthusiastic to take on this huge liability, but of course they’ll have to tell us how we do that without putting the rates up, or they may want to put the rates up.”
With councillors in agreeance, the recommendation to deny the initial approach at this time was passed unanimously.
As part of the resolution, council will assist NSW Corrections and NSW Department of Planning, Industry & Environment with any community consultation that they may undertake to inform the future re-purposing of the Grafton jail site.
They will also recommend that the future re-purposing of the Grafton jail site include opportunities for health, education and accommodation that addresses a range of social outcomes including homelessness, emergency and low cost.