Lancashire village not right spot for super prison, inquiry told

A woman who previously worked for the Ministry of Justice has objected to its plans to build a third prison in her village at a reopened public inquiry.

The blueprint for a 1,700-capacity jail on the border of Chorley and Leyland has faced opposition amid fears local roads would not be able to cope.

It is planned for Ulnes Walton close to HMP Garth and HMP Wymott.

Wendy Porter said it would only add to a "frightening" number of near misses on the roads in the area.

The plan for the so-called super prison has been met with a local campaign in opposition to it and it was thrown out by Chorley Council more than two years ago.

An appeal by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) against that decision was later recommended for refusal by an independent planning inspector.

However, Michael Gove - secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities - had already decreed his department would have the final say on the matter, having first taken into account the conclusions of inspector, Tom Gilbert-Wooldridge, who chaired the public inquiry when it first sat in 2022.

Sign to HMP Garth and HMP Wymott
The new jail is planned for close to HMP Garth and HMP Wymott

It was announced in January 2023 that Mr Gove was "minded to" to go against Mr Gilbert-Wooldridge's recommendation but only if he could be satisfied the road safety issues raised at the initial hearing could be "satisfactorily addressed".

The inquiry has this week been restarted to determine whether that is the case.

The same inspector is at the helm and he will hear evidence about revised measures designed to mitigate the impact of the proposed new prison on surrounding roads.

Ms Porter, who is still a government employee, was the first of several residents and councillors who made it clear that, for them, nothing had changed.

She told the inquiry she had worked for the MoJ until just two months ago.

While she acknowledged more prison places were needed, she said the proposed location was not the right spot stressing that the first-hand experience of residents captured "daily" scenarios the official accident record did not, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.

"When you are driving…[along] Ulnes Walton Lane, you can be overtaking cyclists, close to blind bends, with horses on the other side or lorries.

"And the number of cars I've seen in ditches - or near misses where people have had to swerve on very narrow stretches of road - [is] quite frightening."

'Needless deaths'

Ulnes Walton parish councillor Nicola Watkinson - who lives on Ulnes Walton Lane - told the inquiry the tailbacks caused when cars get stuck behind cyclists or horses often led to drivers "overtaking on the blind bends".

"HGVs thunder past my house, making it shake," Ms Watkinson added, describing the route as "narrow [and] windy, with tight bends".

Ulnes Walton Parish Council chair Paul Doddenhof told the inquiry of an accident on New Lane in 2015 in which a young chef was killed.

He said the village did not want to see any more "needless deaths".

The planned category C jail would act as a resettlement prison for male offenders, preparing them for their eventual release.

The reopened inquiry will hear a range of roads-related evidence from experts representing Chorley Council, the MoJ and the Ulnes Walton Action Group.

It is expected to conclude after Easter.

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