Bridgend Councillors oppose UK Government plans for new female offenders centre in the Borough

Bridgend County Borough Council has confirmed that it intends to oppose plans from the UK Government’s Ministry of Justice for siting an all-new Wales Residential Women’s Centre within the local area.

A number of potential sites across South Wales are currently being considered as locations for the centre, including the Atlantic Hotel in Porthcawl and Sunnyside House in Bridgend town.

The centre, which is intended to keep Welsh female offenders closer to home while providing intensive rehabilitative support as part of a community sentence, would include residential accommodation and an integrated support hub.

The Ministry of Justice has asked to meet with Bridgend County Borough Council to discuss the suitability of the two local sites, and has indicated that it intends to submit applications for a change of use at both locations.

The Leader, Cllr Huw David said: “While we understand and support the rationale for establishing such a centre within South Wales, Bridgend County Borough is absolutely the wrong place for it to be located, and I will be vigorously opposing this.

“Bridgend County Borough is already home to South Wales’ largest prison, and the only youth offending institute in Wales. We also have the only medium security facility for people with complex mental health needs in Wales.

“Despite this, the area has yet to be provided with the level of additional resource or funding that is ultimately necessary for delivering the kind of essential support associated with such facilities.

“The range of care and support that the council and its partners have to provide for inmates at the prison alone is already huge. The additional introduction of the Wales Residential Women’s Centre into the county borough would only serve to amplify this, and would place further considerable strain upon the council after it has already been forced to cut more than £60m from vital services over the last 10 years.

“This is nothing to do with nimbyism – it is very clear that Bridgend County Borough already features more than its fair share of regional and national sites for people with complex needs, and the proposed locations are in our view entirely inappropriate for such a facility. This is literally a site that can be housed anywhere in Wales, so why put it here?

“As well as being a prime site for service accommodation and a key element in the visitor economy for the county borough, establishing a residential centre for offenders at the Atlantic Hotel would risk jeopardising our ongoing efforts to attract further multi-million pound investment as part of our Porthcawl Regeneration Strategy.

“There is no doubt that the loss of the hotel would affect high-profile events that have been helping to put Porthcawl on the map, such as the world-famous Elvis Festival or the succession of Seniors Open golf tournaments that the town has hosted.

“Likewise, given the ongoing development of an all-new £23m wellness village and sheltered accommodation at Sunnyside in Bridgend town centre, I fail to see how placing the proposed Wales Residential Women’s Centre literally on the other side of the road would complement the plans that are already underway for basing services for vulnerable residents at the same spot.

“Nor should we underestimate the impact that this could have on safeguarding responsibilities.  We already deal with high-risk safeguarding matters in relation to HMP Parc, Tŷ Llidiard and the Caswell Clinic, and the introduction of this proposed new centre would place additional strain upon a service that is already facing huge challenges in terms of resources and demand.

“Introducing large numbers of people who require widespread care and support at either of the proposed locations will place considerable pressure upon existing services, have similar implications for primary and secondary care services, and will affect community safety and policing.

“In summary, the council recognises that there is a need for such a service within Wales, and supports the aim to introduce it.

“What we do not support is the notion that sites within Bridgend County Borough should be considered, not when we already have more than our fair share of such facilities located here, and especially not at the Atlantic Hotel in Porthcawl or Sunnyside House in Bridgend.”

Cllr Nicole Burnett, Cabinet Member for Social Services and Early Help, added: “Basing the Wales Residential Women’s Centre here would impact upon local residents and the locality itself as well as upon the resources and staff of the local authority.

“It would be grossly unfair to the people of Bridgend County Borough when we have already embraced more than our fair share of such facilities, and would put a number of our regeneration plans at risk as well as being at odds with other ongoing initiatives and exerting additional strain against the limited resources that remain available to us.

“This will be the council’s position when we meet with the Ministry of Justice to discuss their plans, and residents can be assured that we will be appealing directly to the UK Government to argue that Bridgend County Borough should not become the focus of this proposal.”

Prospective MS Candidate Sarah Murphy, who is standing for the Bridgend seat after current MS, Carwen Jones, retires in May, said she supported the council’s objections to the suggested sites.  Sarah said:

“Ours is a welcoming and inclusive community here in Bridgend and Porthcawl, and one which has worked alongside both Parc Prison and the Youth Offender Institute for many, many years. Women have been treated unfairly by the justice system and more must be done so that they can rehabilitate as close to their own communities and families as possible.”

“However, I am deeply concerned that the Atlantic Hotel in Porthcawl and Sunnyside House in Bridgend, have been identified as potential locations for a new Wales Residential Women’s Centre without any discussion with our community. This lack of communication from the U.K. Government treats local people with contempt and causes understandable frustration and concern.

“Rather than making the decision in London, the Ministry of Justice must come and meet with us, and see the locations and surrounding areas up close. I believe then they will agree that neither site is appropriate. If an all-Wales pilot scheme for women offenders is to be a success, it needs to be done properly and in the right place, not just for surrounding communities and businesses, but for the women themselves.”