Concept for new jail: Council exploring idea for $300m precinct

TAMWORTH Regional Council has revealed work is under way exploring the concept of building a $300 million development comprising a jail, renewable energy centre and commercial glasshouse.

The bombshell comes ahead of Tuesday night’s council meeting when councillors are expected to vote in favour of formally approaching the state government to gauge its interest in the venture.

The plan, which is in its earliest possible stages, would be contingent on not only the existing Tamworth Correctional Centre closing, but the state government selecting the city as the site of a replacement jail.

Council maintains it has no indication either eventuality will occur; however, amid intense speculation in recent months that land near the airport has been earmarked for a new jail, has chosen to go public with the concept.

A report by council’s assistant general manager, Peter Thompson, states the concept “should produce the most efficient correctional facility in NSW, if not Australia” and lead to more than 1000 jobs during construction.

If it were to proceed, there would also be an estimated 150 to 300 permanent full-time jobs in the glasshouse and between 250 and 300 permanent full-time jobs in the new correctional centre.

“The future prospect of the corrective services facility in North Tamworth being closed with the potential relocation of the service to a greenfield site in the future, has led the council to explore the concept of collocating a commercial glasshouse, renewable energy centre and correctional services facility at the same time,” the report states.

“With this concept, the renewable energy centre would provide power, heat and hot water for the correctional services facility at much cheaper rates than using conventional utility supplies.

“In total, the capital expenditure would be over $300 million. At this point in time, council officers are quietly confident that the whole project could be privately financed; however, this would obviously depend on the detailed feasibility work.”

Mr Thompson’s report says the origins for the idea were borne out of consideration given in 2012 to using the city’s wastewater to produce a renewable energy source for power generation.

While the investigation indicated the council could produce enough power to run all its assets off a biogas plant, the cost – at an estimated $10 million with annual operating expenditure of $3 million – was not commercially viable.

However, this led the council to consider the possibility of collocating “complementary developments”, such as a new jail or commercial glasshouse operation, on the same site as the biogas plant.

Geoffrey Green of the Association of Tamworth Ratepayers, which was set up by concerned residents opposed to the prospect of a new jail being built in the city, said members would address the council on Tuesday night.

“We’ll address the council with statistics that we’ve got to date that clearly show that jails are bad growth,” he said.

“I would hope that subsequent to our presentation on Tuesday evening that council might want to sit down with us and go through what we’ve got in detail ... and engage in intellectual conversation for the better education of the community.”

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