Plans approved for prison expansion - despite protest outside Wigan council meeting

Protestors gathered outside a Wigan council meeting to oppose prison expansion plans – but the scheme was approved.
Watch more of our videos on Shots!
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

Members of Pies Not Prisons – the prison abolitionist activist group campaigning against the expansion of HMP Hindley – held a demonstration outside Wigan Town Hall with trade union representatives, as Wigan Council’s planning committee met to consider the application.

They voiced their objections to the extension, which will see the jail almost double in size, from being able to house 640 male inmates to a total of 1,134.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The group warned: “If they have spaces, they will fill them.”

Marion Dawson, Barry Conway, Dr David Scott, Dave Lowe and Jimmy Ellis protest outside Wigan Town HallMarion Dawson, Barry Conway, Dr David Scott, Dave Lowe and Jimmy Ellis protest outside Wigan Town Hall
Marion Dawson, Barry Conway, Dr David Scott, Dave Lowe and Jimmy Ellis protest outside Wigan Town Hall
Read More
Expansion plan for Hindley Prison set to get green light as number of inmates ex...

Proposals to expand the prison were put forward as part of a £500m expansion programme by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

Two new car parks are also due to be built with 494 parking spaces for prison staff and visitors.

It is hoped the expansion will help boost rehabilitation and reduce reoffending, and provide improved security and additional training facilities to help offenders find employment upon release.

Hindley Prison Hindley Prison
Hindley Prison
Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A planning statement said: “The prison population is currently forecast to increase over the next 10 years, reaching unprecedented levels by the end of the decade.

“The MoJ and its executive agency HMPPS are embarking on the most ambitious programme of prison expansion in over a century, delivering 20,000 additional prison places through a portfolio of programmes and projects representing an investment of £3.8 billion.

“These new places will be delivered through a programme that offers the taxpayer value for money and will also support suppliers and builders across the country. As part of this programme a need has been identified to provide additional accommodation at category C prisons.

“HMP Hindley was identified as a prison which required additional accommodation. This planning application would provide an additional up to 494 bed spaces (for up to 494 prisoners) at HMP Hindley.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

However, objectors pointed out that predictions about rising numbers of criminals made in the past proved to be inaccurate – Government forecasts that prison populations would likely exceed 100,000 by 2013 did not happen.

Wigan Council had previously stated that as the extension will mean “inappropriate development in greenbelt area”, “very special circumstances would need to be demonstrated”.

But a new report suggested the extent of harm was significantly limited by the existing prison site, fence line and buildings, the retention of trees and landscaping and incorporation of new landscaping.

HMP Hindley has been a cause for concern in recent years, with damning reports slamming it as possibly “one of the worst ever seen” by inspectors for its conditions and regime.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A recent report revealed some improvements had been made, but some argued the inspection was not done to the same standard as it would have been because Covid-19 restrictions were in place.

After considering the application, councillors decided the expansion could go ahead.

Justice expert Dr David Scott, from the Open University, said: “Local people have gathered outside the Wigan Council offices to make it clear to councillors that a new mega prison is not welcome here.

"The expansion will destroy greenbelt land and send a perverted message that our Government wants to expand one of the most poorly performing prisons in the country.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“There is no current demand for increased capacity. We need to invest in building the capacity of local people not prison places and in initiatives that can lead to human flourishing and well-being rather than institutions which are characterised by violence, suffering and the destruction of life.”

After the meeting, he said: “It’s a disappointing result.

"The meeting was very focused on the technical aspects of the application and the plans have completely underestimated car parking, especially for visitors.

“The greenbelt that will be impacted and tree removal will be on the outside of the parameters of the new build, for security reasons, so there will be damage to the greenbelt here and also through construction.

“When asked what percentage of prisoners in Hindley weren't from the borough, they said they didn't have this information.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Marion Dawson, a member of Pies Not Prisons, said: “The current prison is under capacity and has had terrible reports made. I think they need to be dealing with those problems rather than expanding it.

"The prison population is stable at around 80,000 people and the only reason that it would increase is because the Government wants to lock more people up.

"So, there’s not a need and I definitely don’t think that it qualifies as very special circumstances.

“A bigger prison is the last thing our communities need, in a cost-of-living crisis when people are crying out for support, the public has a right to have our say on this.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Trade union representative Jimmy Ellis said: “Originally, it was used as a borstal but now with the expansion, it could upgrade the standard of criminal.

"Most people are law abiding but they’d like to see a system for people where there’s hope, rehabilitation and where things could improve.

"Where they will be building is near the Turner Brothers Asbestos Works where there were a lot of deaths from asbestosis and we are concerned that this could disturb any asbestos in the area.”

A spokesman for Pies Not Prisons added: “Bickershaw and Wigan borough deserve better forms of government investment than that intending to massively expand a cathedral of pain.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"The new mega prison will be ecologically harmful to the local area and do little, if nothing, to help victims or perpetrators of crime.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “The plans for HMP Hindley are part of our £4bn investment to create 20,000 modern prison places to help better rehabilitate offenders and cut crime.

“They will not encroach on greenbelt land and are within the prison’s existing perimeter.

“In its most recent report, inspectors praised the prison for creating a safe environment and reducing self-harm and violence significantly."