TAMWORTH political leaders have hosed down fears a new jail housing up to 600 inmates has been earmarked for a site near the airport.
The spectre of a new jail for Tamworth has loomed over the city for a number of years, but rumours intensified this week after a senior police source told The Leader a 900-acre council-owned parcel of land on Oxley Ln had been identified by the state government as a preferred site.
The Department of Corrective Services refused to comment on the issue, but Tamworth mayor Col Murray and local MP Kevin Anderson both strongly denied a decision on a new jail had been made.
Cr Murray said council was determined to protect the 40-plus jobs at Tamworth’s existing prison, which is at the end of its life cycle due to the prohibitive cost of housing inmates.
Cr Murray and Mr Anderson met with former attorney-general Greg Smith in early 2013 and were told it costs $182 a night to keep an inmate in Tamworth, more than $60 a night more than in newer jails like Nowra.
“It’s the poorest-performing jail in the state in dollar terms,” Cr Murray said.
“We need to have this discussion because those jobs are not expendable.
“We were told NSW needed a new jail in northern NSW fairly soon.
“Whether it’s in Tamworth or somewhere else, I will do everything in my power to make sure none of those jobs are lost.
“If that means having a discussion about a new jail here then I’ll have it.
“There’s all sorts of potential sites and we’re not at the stage of picking one yet.”
The state government is expected to allocate $1.5 million in this month’s budget for feasibility studies into possible new jail sites.
Mr Anderson said no decision would be made without “rigorous discussion” with the community.
“We’re always looking at options to be more efficient with taxpayer dollars and Tamworth’s jail is an old facility,” Mr Anderson said.
“Tamworth is a go-ahead city and the government is certainly looking at us (as a potential site for a new jail).
“But it would need to be approved by the community first.”
An Oxley Ln resident, who would only speak on the condition of anonymity, said she was “extremely concerned” about a jail being built in the area.
“We are worried about land being devalued and about the crime and drugs you get with
people associated with prisoners,” she said.