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.
Stephen Kinnock: 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?
Mr Gyimah: 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.
Stephen Kinnock: 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?
Mr Gyimah: 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.
Stephen Kinnock: 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?
Mr Gyimah: 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.