CONTROVERSIAL plans for a residential centre for women who have committed low level offences have been turned down by Swansea’s planning committee.
Councillors voted by 11 to one against a recommendation by planning officers to approve the scheme for the Trehafod building, within the grounds of Cefn Coed Coed Hospital site, Cockett.
But the committee decided to defer coming forward with refusal reasons, as it needs to do, to allow planning officers to take advice, including counsel from legal officers.
The Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) application was to add a two-storey extension to Trehafod, off Waunarlwydd Road, and change the building’s use from health clinic to residential women’s centre.
The MoJ said 12 women from the Swansea area would stay at the centre for 12 weeks at a time, where they would address the causes of their offending and be encouraged to take part in things like exercise classes, cooking and gardening. The centre would be staffed 24/7 by the Prison and Probation Service, and would also provide day services for other women.
The proposal prompted significant opposition from residents, 215 of whom wrote to the planning department to object. A petition of objection was signed by 122 people. There was one letter of support.
Four objectors spoke at the September 6 planning meeting. They said there had been a lack of consultation from the MoJ, and that the ministry had failed to say what impacts or benefits the local community would experience.
Objector Helen Jones said the Ministry of Justice could not provide assurances regarding local residents’ safety. “We are not opposed to the idea of a secure unit for female offenders – we oppose it in this populated community of vulnerable residents,” she said.
Another objector, Liz McWilliams, said locating a residential centre close to a pub – The Cockett Inn – “does not seem conducive to rehabilitating someone with addiction issues”.
She added that the centre would be opposite an existing children’s cancer charity where a new sensory garden was planned. “It truly beggars belief that anyone with any compassion could suggest that this is the right place for such a development,” she said.
A third objector, Alan Cunningham, said the proposal was “sheer lunacy” and “the culmination of decades of failed liberal ideology and soft justice”. He said residents in the area already had to put up with abuse and threats from “drug-dealing scum”, and that creating the women’s centre was “tantamount to pouring petrol on an open fire”.
The fourth objector, Stuart Owen, said the people of Cockett overwhelmingly “fear and object to this proposal”.
Speaking on behalf of the scheme, Clive Jennings, executive director for HM Prison and Probation in Wales, said there was persuasive evidence that offending behaviour was more effectively managed by community services than short prison sentences, and that the whole objective was to reduce re-offending.
The Trehafod site, he said, had been selected on the basis of greatest need and most impact.
“In Swansea there are a higher number of women sentenced to short-term custody than elsewhere,” said Mr Jennings. “We are confident that this will help them address their offending and turn them away from their life of crime.”
The centre, he said, would not be a prison – but it would be in the interest of the women who stayed there not to misbehave, as failure to comply would mean a return to court. Mr Jennings listed the types of public consultation he said had taken place and added that he’d had a “constructive conversation” with the children’s charity opposite.
Next to address the committee was Cockett councillor Mike Durke, who said he and his fellow ward members thought locating the women’s centre at Trehafod “would absolutely be a mistake”. If the scheme was approved, he said, the MoJ should set up a £100,000 community fund so residents could bolster security measures at their homes.
Cllr Durke said the proposal was akin to “playing Russian roulette” with the Cockett community, and that the centre with its security fencing and lighting would have the appearance of a prison “no matter what the sign out the front door” said.
Planning committee member Cllr Peter Black suggested that a restriction limiting the use of the building to a women’s residential centre should be added as a condition, which other councillors supported.
Several committee members went on to voice their concern about the application including Cllr Mike White. “It should not go ahead,” he said. Members then voted against the application.