Horror at plan to move Lancashire school bus stop INSIDE proposed new prison grounds
A mother living close to the site of a proposed new prison in Central Lancashire says that plans to move a public bus stop used by schoolchildren to within the grounds of the yet-to-be-approved jail are “disgraceful”.
Kate Lewis told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that she was appalled at the prospect of her 11-year-old son and other local youngsters having to enter the prison perimeter and queue up with inmates being allowed out on day release or to go to work as part of their rehabilitation.
She was speaking out after a campaign group set up to oppose the plans for a so-called “super prison” - close to the existing Wymott and Garth jails on the border of Chorley and Leyland - spotted a reference to the proposed bus stop shift in a planning application submitted to Chorley Council.
Under an outline travel plan drawn up to support the proposal for the 1,715-inmate category C jail, the current pick-up and drop-off point on Willow Road on the Wymott housing estate would be relocated to within the car park of the planned new prison facility.
The stop is currently used by two school and college services - the 412 to Bishop Rawstorne Church of England Academy in Croston and the 983 to Runshaw College in Leyland. It is also served by the general passenger 112 route between Preston and Croston, which is backed by Lancashire County Council.
Residents on the nearby Wymott estate have previously set out their wider concerns about getting a third jail for a new neighbour - but Kate Lewis says that the bus stop change has confirmed her belief that locals are nothing more than “an inconvenience and an afterthought” to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), the government department behind the plans.
She says that while prisoners out on temporary release from the new jail would still be waiting in line with children even if the current on-street bus stop were maintained, they would at least have other residents “keeping an eye on them”.
“When you are a parent, all you want to do is keep your children safe. People are in prison for a reason - and so you certainly don't want your children stood at a bus stop with criminals.
“The thought of them being on the prison grounds [is even worse].
“They're saying that all the prisoners will be risk assessed [before being allowed out], but think about how many reoffend. They’re just not safeguarding children if they're going to allow them onto prison grounds to get the bus.
“In the [public] consultation, it was said that it may be written into the terms of the release licences that [inmates] wouldn’t be allowed to get the bus between 8 and 8.30 and 3 and 3.30. But if they have got to be in work for 9am, then they are going to be getting the bus at 8.
“And it's not just about children getting to school. In a few years, my son is going to want to get the bus into Leyland to meet his friends - and I'm going to have to be the mum who turns up with him in a car. I need to give him some freedom, but I don't want him to be at the bus stop with prisoners,” Kate added.
She also bristled at the thought that some of the inmates who would be in same bus stop queue as her son could be convicted sex offenders, like some of those housed at neighbouring Wymott, also a category C jail.
“If it's going to be similar to Wymott, that's just my worst nightmare - it makes me feel sick,” Kate said.
An MoJ document produced as part of a public consultation into the new prison proposal earlier this year stressed that it would be “under very limited circumstances [that] men held in a category C prison may be released on temporary license (ROTL) to go to work”.
“This is strictly risk assessed and monitored,” the document states.
It adds that only the “lowest-risk” offenders - based on individual assessments - would be allowed out for work or short visits. Category C prisoners are, in general, deemed to be low risk.
The proposed new prison would be a “resettlement” facility designed for inmates who are about 18 months away from release, a slightly different operation to Wymott, which is a “training” prison where inmates are given help to manage their risks and make them safer when their sentence ends.
The outline transport plan submitted as part of the planning application for the new jail sets out an aspiration to encourage staff and visitors to the prison to use public transport - with the relocated bus stop being one of the highlighted features. The stop would be connected to Willow Road via a public footpath.
However, Emma Curtis, from the Action Against Wymott & Garth 3rd Prison group, says the fact that visitors to the prison will also be using the bus stop poses another problem for local parents.
“I fully appreciate that not everybody in prison has bad associates. Some will be from decent families and there will be decent families there visiting them.
“But some will have unappealing associates [who] also go and visit. I don't want my son, who goes to college, associating with people like that,” Emma said.
She added that the plans to encourage sustainable transport were likely to fail anyway - because of the paucity of public transport options in the area.
“The [inmates] are coming from Liverpool and Manchester - the MoJ have told us that already. Visitors travelling from Liverpool can get off a train at Croston, but you can't if you’re coming from Manchester - you’ve got to go to Preston.
“If you do get off at Croston, you then have to catch a bus or get a taxi. If you catch the bus, it only goes one way - from the train station to the prison, it doesn't go back,” Emma explained.
Local business owner David Williams says that the poor bus service provided to the Wymott estate means there is “no chance” of staff and visitors using public transport to get to and from the new jail if it goes ahead - making the bus stop change “pointless”.
He added: “It takes about half an hour to get from the prison to Croston and nearly an hour-and-a-half to get into Preston.
“I spoke to a pensioner this week who was waiting at the bus stop and she said she was totally unaware of the proposal. When I told her about it, she said: ‘Why should I have to go into the prison grounds to catch a bus?’"
A spokesperson for Lancashire County Council told the LDRS that County Hall would have the final say over what happened to the Willow Road bus stop - and that the authority had no intention of moving it.
"Our priority is for the bus services we support to best serve the needs of residents in this area and, irrespective of the proposals outlined in the documents supporting this planning application, our services will continue to visit the bus stop on Willow Road.
"In the past, bus services in this area did serve the prison using bus stops on the access roads to the south of the site. However, these are not currently in use.
“We would like to reassure people that there is no reason for school bus services to visit the prison site and we have no plans to change the way these existing services operate."
The MoJ said that its proposal to move the bus stop to within the prison grounds followed feedback from residents concerned about an increase in passengers waiting for buses near their homes.
A spokesperson for the MoJ said: “Allowing carefully risk-assessed offenders, subject to strict conditions, on day release helps them find work and turn their backs on crime – protecting local communities.
“We are committed to working with the local community to ensure the economic benefits are felt while minimising any disruption.”
Under the New Prisons Programme, the government has committed over £4 billion towards creating 18,000 additional prison places by the middle of this decade via a combination of new builds - like the one proposed for Central Lancashire - and extending and refurbishing other existing facilities.
DRUG DRONE CLAIM CONCERNS LOCALS
Residents living close to HMP Wymott say they received a visit from police and community support officers (PCSOs) last weekend asking for help in identifying people who may be using drones to drop drugs into the facility.
Emma Curtis, from the Action Against Wymott & Garth 3rd Prison group, says she was asked if she had CCTV, as Lancashire Police were trying to track vehicles that may have been used to deploy the airborne devices in the area.
“We have seen cars knocking around - I wasn't aware that it was a big problem, but if there is an issue with it now, what happens when you double [the local prison population]?” Emma asked.
She said that it was another reason for people across a wide area to object to the new prison proposal before it is considered by Chorley Council.
However, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice dismissed any suggestion that there was a particular issue with drugs being flown in to Wymott.
“There is no evidence to support the claim that HMP Wymott has a significant problem with drone drops and we have invested hundreds of millions of pounds to bolster security and stop contraband entering prisons.
“Those found guilty of criminal drone activity have already been sentenced to more than 150 years behind bars.”
Lancashire Police did not comment specifically on the enquiries made of residents last weekend when approached by the LDRS about the matter.
In a statement, Chief Inspector Chris Abbott said: “We are committed to tackling all forms of criminal activity, including the illegal supply of drugs, to ensure Lancashire remains a safe place to live and work.
“We regularly study crime patterns so when we see an upturn in offending in an area we can quickly focus our resources to where they are most needed.
“We rely on the community to report criminal activity when they see it and we will act on that information. They can do this by calling 101. In an emergency or if a crime is ongoing, call 999. To find out what we are doing to tackle crime in your area sign up to Lancashire Talking via www.stayintheknow.co.uk.”
'NO THOUGHT' TO PRISON PLAN
Campaign group member Julie Carson says that the suggested bus stop move is one of many aspects of the third prison plan that feel like they are the result of a "desktop exercise" which has considered neither child safeguarding nor road safety - and blurred the boundary that exists between the housing estate and the existing Wymott and Garth jails.
"Even though there are two prisons here [already], we're not affected by any traffic...because it’s all [accessed from] the road that goes round the prison.
"If they had to build another prison and it had to be here, it wouldn't be as much of an issue if the [new] car park was all fenced in and came from alongside where Wymott Prison is.
"The kids play on a grassed area on the corner of where Moss Lane meets the main part of the estate and ride their bikes up and down. They keep saying they will put in some traffic management, but it's not the speed of the traffic that's the issue, it's the [volume] - under 200 cars per day to be replaced by 800 vehicles a day."
The category C Wymott Prison opened its doors in 1979, followed by its category B neighbour Garth in 1988.