News

Monmouthshire prison block to finally be demolished after failing fire test in wake of Grenfell Tower

12 Nov 2021 3 minutes Read
The Lester block at HMP Prescoed near Usk. Picture: HM Inspectorate of Prisons

Saul Cooke-Black, local democracy reporter

A prison block in Monmouthshire will finally be demolished after it failed a fire safety inspection carried out in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

The Lester building at HMP Prescoed young offenders institution in Coed-y-Paen, near Usk, provided accommodation for 40 prisoners across two floors until July this year.

But several inspections of the prison have highlighted its poor condition and called for the block to be replaced.

An investment proposal to replace the building was submitted to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) estates department back in August 2018, the Local Democracy Reporting Service can reveal.

However the bid was declined, and upgrades to the existing building were made instead.

An annual report of the prison’s Independent Monitoring Board – a body which monitors the welfare of prisoners – again highlighted its poor condition in October 2019.

The report said the ‘dreary’ building had unreliable plumbing and drainage systems.

It said that despite renovations carried out, the block “represents poor quality”.

“Lester is a prefabricated unit designed to have a 10-year lifespan, it was installed over 20 years ago and is not ageing well,” the report said.

It added that the building “appears to need complete replacement”.

‘Failed’

A further monitoring board report in October 2020 said the block “continues to look unappealing and offers poorer-quality accommodation”.

The MOJ said the decision to demolish the building was taken following a survey in December last year, which found that major investment would be needed to bring it up to standard and that the unit did not meet fire safety regulations.

It is understood the unit was still in use until July this year.

An unannounced inspection of the prison carried out by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in June said the block was due to be demolished in August.

But a decision notice giving the go ahead for demolition work was only issued by Monmouthshire County Council this week, on Tuesday, November 9.

An application for the works said: “The building needs to be demolished and replaced with a new building to comply with current building/fire regulations to provide a safe environment for inmates.

“The current building failed its fire inspection following Grenfell Tower.”

Scheme

A council planning report says that following the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, where 72 people died, all modular buildings were risk assessed against current fire regulations.

Lester block was identified as “not meeting all areas”, the report says.

The MOJ said the block is now expected to be demolished early next year.

The capacity of the prison will be maintained using temporary pod accommodation until the new replacement building is completed.

A Monmouthshire council report says a separate planning application will be lodged for the new building as the replacement design is still being developed as part of a national scheme.

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