There’s been an outpouring of community anger over plans for a new $288 million high security youth detention centre at Werribee South.
After nearly a week of speculation, the state government confirmed on Monday that it will start construction of a 224-bed youth detention centre along Hoppers Lane early next year – despite no consultation with either Wyndham council or locals.
The prison, which is slated for completion by the end of 2020, will hold both remanded and sentenced offenders, and include a 12-bed mental health unit and an “intensive supervision unit” with at least eight beds.
The detention centre will be located in an area earmarked for part of the East Werribee employment precinct, and will be about two kilometres down the road from select-entry high school Suzanne Cory, Victoria University, Werribee Mercy Hospital, Wyndham Private Medical Centre, St Vincent’s Private Werribee Hospital and Werribee Open Range Zoo.
It is also within five kilometres of Wyndham Harbour.
A statement from the state government also cited “scope for future expansion” at the 31-hectare government-owned site.
Premier Daniel Andrews said Werribee South had been chosen for its proximity to health and education services, and the “significant buffer” between the detention centre and residential areas.
More than 6500 people have already signed a petition opposing the location of the centre, while almost 2000 people are following the newly-formed Speak Out – Wyndham’s Voice Facebook page.
The group will be holding a public meeting on Monday, February 13, 7.30pm, at Encore Stadium to voice their concerns about the centre’s location, and it has invited state and federal MPs.
Group co-founder Lisa Heinrichs said at least 20 Werribee South farmers will ride their tractors past the Hoppers Lane location, along Sneydes Road and up Derrimut Road, to the public meeting, bearing signs that will read: “Not in Werribee South”.
“We’re not taking it lying down,” she said.
“I can’t think of a worse location – you’ve got hospitals, a medical centre, a school, Victoria University – it’s a stone’s throw away from upper Point Cook and close to our tourist precinct.”
Meanwhile, residents have flooded the Wyndham Star Weekly Facebook page, with more than 600 comments venting frustration with the plan, and many raising concerns about the lack of consultation and the youth jail’s proximity to Wyndham Harbour, the Werribee South tourism precinct, hospitals, schools and homes.
A state government media release said construction would follow “close consultation with the local community”, but Ratepayers of Werribee South president Joe Garra said talk of consulting with people, after an announcement had already been made, was insulting.
“There’s no consultation if we’re not allowed to voice our opinions,” Mr Garra said.
Wyndham mayor Henry Barlow concurred, adding: “What are we going to consult about? The colour scheme?
“We’ve had no consultation – we haven’t had any meeting with ministers or the government itself as to possible locations out here – this is just being sprung on us and, let me tell you, we’re not happy about it.”
Cr Barlow said no other corrections centre in Victoria is located on such a high-profile site.
“They are usually put in areas that are out of the way,” he said.
A Wyndham Harbour spokeswoman also voiced opposition to the plan.
“Having this facility in Werribee South is inconsistent with the state government’s objectives in the area – an emerging tourism hub with a proposed multi-billion dollar employment and education precinct, and a region that boasts one of the fastest growing communities in the country,” she said.
Youth Affairs Minister Jenny Mikakos told 3AW while Werribee South was the government’s preferred site, it is in talks with Wyndham council about the best place to build the new centre.
“If the council was to say there is other land within the municipality that meets all the criteria … then obviously we would consider that,” she said.
A spokesman for state Planning Minister Richard Wynne said the government’s vision for the East Werribee employment precinct was intact.
“It’s all about driving jobs and boosting the local economy, and a new youth justice facility will do just that,” he said.
“It’s not just going to be a major driver of direct employment, it will give nearby businesses and traders renewed opportunities for lucrative contracts and other works.”