Opponents hit out at plans for female offenders accommodation in holiday hotspot
Hannah Neary, local democracy reporter
Plans to use a hotel in Porthcawl to house Welsh female offenders have been met with hostility from residents and local politicians.
The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) wants to open a residential shelter in Wales for help women convicted of low-level crimes.
The MOJ has shortlisted five locations in Wales for the centre, including the Atlantic Hotel in Porthcawl, the Sunnyside development in Bridgend, and Willow House in Newport.
Ally Barr, who lives near the Atlantic Hotel, said: “I’m not against these kind of places, it’s an absolute necessity but using a three-star hotel on the seafront in a lovely little quaint seaside town is just beyond belief really.
“I’m greatly concerned about the effect it will have on elderly residents and people that are quite vulnerable.
“It will massively affect business in the town and property prices. It’s a great idea but in a terrible location.”
Celia Butler, who also lives in Porthcawl and owns a holiday let in the area, said the plans are “inappropriate and insensitive”.
“Ultimately taxpayers fund this provision. There are millions of law-abiding, working taxpayers who just about make ends meet month on month.
“They consider themselves lucky if they manage to scrape together enough money to afford a week in a caravan or camping somewhere during the summer and could never imagine affording a stay at the Atlantic Hotel or any other prime position seafront accommodation.
“How can it be fair or just for offenders to be housed in such prime accommodation, paid for by the taxpayer, regardless of all the other issues? It would be highly unjust and ill-considered if this location was selected.
“Bridgend county is already making more than its fair share of provision for offenders. The Welsh Government and MOJ should be looking to spread the load much more fairly.”
The centre will be the first of its kind, housing up to 12 local women and offering services aimed at preventing them from reoffending. It will also offer support for domestic abuse and mental health issues and assist women who have left the centre and are settling into new homes.
There are currently no female prisons in Wales and so Welsh prisoners are moved to England.
According to the MOJ, the women will have to attend the new centre as part of their sentences and must engage in rehabilitative support. The service is designed to help women improve their lives while staying close to their children and families.
The building will also be staffed by the National Probation Service at all times with a no drugs or alcohol policy and a zero-tolerance approach to violence.
MP for Bridgend Jamie Wallis said: “It’s very clear that people in Bridgend and Porthcawl don’t feel that these sites are appropriate.
“The bus routes in Porthcawl aren’t designed for this – they’re designed for tourism and elderly people and there’s no train station.”
The Conservative MP added: “We already do a lot for UK justice – we’ve got Parc Prison, the young offenders institute, mental health facilities, the Dyfodol centre.
“There’s a general feeling that with these facilities they’re put there and then almost forgotten about. I think it would affect the quality of life for a lot of people in the nearby vicinity.
“Covid has had a massive impact on the local economy. Coming out of Covid, we really need everything in our favour, we need Porthcawl to have hotels and a seafront with offerings for visitors.
“The last thing we want is a prominent location on the seafront to have a centre that might impact on the character of the area and might have an impact on peoples’ perceptions of the seafront as somewhere to go for a walk.
“It’s a ridiculous choice. It’s important the Ministry of Justice knows just how strongly people feel about this and how eager we are to ensure that it doesn’t go ahead.”
Bridgend Council has also opposed the plans, claiming it understands the need for such services but the county borough is already home to a prison and Wales’ only youth offending institution and so the facility would be a further strain on council resources.
Sean Aspey, Independent councillor for Porthcawl West Central, said Porthcawl does not have “adequate transport links” or police services to support the womens’ centre.
“It’s just going to put a massive strain on resources that we haven’t got. Porthcawl has suffered from decades of decline. There are ongoing serious attempts now to bring this town back into the 21st Century, to increase visitor footfall and tourism in the area.
“We are one of Visit Wales’ priority destinations and the seafront is a showcase in the town for businesses. People want to come down here and feel safe with their families. If we start this we set a precedent and it’s going to have the opposite effect in terms of driving people away.”
Cllr Aspey also said there was “a huge amount of antisocial behaviour” in Porthcawl during the first UK lockdown and claimed this was linked to residents staying at the Atlantic Hotel.
Bridgend Council confirmed the hotel has been used as accommodation for the homeless during the pandemic as part of a Wales-wide initiative between the Welsh Government and local authorities.
Residents and local business owners have set up a fundraising page to raise money for legal representation against the MOJ’s plans for the Atlantic Hotel.
The MOJ, Welsh Government and other Welsh partners aim to open a centre in Wales by the end of 2021. The Ministry will not submit any formal planning applications until after the Senedd and Police and Crime Commissioner elections in May.
An MOJ spokesperson said: “The centre will help tackle the causes of low-level offenders’ behaviour, reduce reoffending and ultimately keep the public safe.
“We are engaging with local authorities and communities before we make a decision on the site location and no formal planning applications have been submitted.”