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Ministry of Justice scraps plans for centre for Welsh female offenders in Bridgend

27 May 2021 5 minutes Read
Sunnyside House in Bridgend. Photo via Google.

Hannah Neary, local democracy reporter

The Ministry of Justice has scrapped plans to use a former office block in Bridgend as a centre for Welsh female offenders.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is no longer considering Sunnyside House in Bridgend as a possible site for a residential shelter in Wales aimed at reforming women convicted of low-level crime.

An MoJ spokesperson said: “We are continuing our search for a suitable site for the centre, which will tackle the causes of low-level offending, cut crime and ultimately keep the public safe.”

Two sites within Bridgend county borough were shortlisted for the plans, which Bridgend Council’s leader said were “half-baked”. Another site in Newport was also shortlisted but it is no longer on the market.

Opposition

Earlier this month, the MoJ axed the Atlantic Hotel in Porthcawl as a potential site for the new facility, following widespread opposition against the plans from local MPs, residents and Bridgend County Borough Council.

Council leader Huw David said removing Bridgend county borough from the shortlist was “absolutely the right thing” for the MoJ to do and he is “grateful” it allowed the council to argue its case.

He said is “pleased” Sunnyside House was discounted “but it should never have been shortlisted in the first place”.

There are currently no female prisons in Wales. The centre would be the first of its kind, aimed at preventing re-offending and offering support for domestic abuse and mental health.

The MoJ plans to house up to 12 local women at the new facility and it would be staffed by the National Probation Service at all times.

The service is designed to help women improve their lives while staying close to their children and families. They will have to attend the centre as part of their sentences and engage in rehabilitative support.

According to a spokesperson, the MoJ decided the sites in Bridgend county borough were not suitable given the changes required to open the centre.

‘Half-baked’

Cllr David said: “Our representations have consistently been framed within a rational planning context, and thanks are also due to the residents who made their views about these half-baked plans very clear.

“We fully understand and support the rationale for establishing such a centre within South Wales, but I continue to maintain that Bridgend county borough is absolutely the wrong place for it to be located.”

The Labour member added: “Despite not receiving the kind of essential support that is associated with such facilities, we are already home to South Wales’ largest prison, Wales’ only youth offending institute, and medium-security facilities for people with complex mental health needs.

“We provide a wide range of care and support for inmates at the prison, and deal with high-risk safeguarding matters in relation to HMP Parc, Tŷ Liddiard and the Caswell Clinic.

“Introducing a Wales residential women’s centre into the county borough would have only intensified this at a time when the council has already been forced to cut more than £60m from important services.

“We also argued that placing the centre opposite an all-new £23m wellness village and sheltered accommodation would not benefit vulnerable residents, would place further considerable pressure upon the services that are already in place, and would impact upon primary and secondary care services, community safety, policing and more.”

Conservative MP for Bridgend Jamie Wallis said: “Following several meetings with the minister and officials, I’m pleased that both sites in Bridgend have now been ruled out.

‘Not appropriate’

“Over the last few weeks, I’ve spoken with huge numbers of residents, local councillors, and stakeholders. The message was clear that we want to see a centre in Wales, and we want to help reduce reoffending, but these locations were just not appropriate.

“I wish the MoJ all the best as they continue their efforts to find a suitable location. I’d like to thank everyone who engaged with the campaign, and the local councillors especially for their efforts without which we couldn’t have engaged as constructively as we did.”

Cllr Nicole Burnett, Bridgend Council’s cabinet member for social services and early help, said: “This is good news as Wales is still going to benefit from the development of a residential women’s centre but it is going to be sourced in a far more appropriate location.”

The Labour councillor added: “I would like to thank everyone who has supported our efforts to convince the ministry not to proceed with Sunnyside House and the Atlantic Hotel as potential sites for their plans.

“What we need now is further confirmation that the Ministry of Justice has recognised the planning context and all of the arguments that have been placed before it, and that Bridgend county borough has been ruled out entirely from future plans as a potential location for the centre.”

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