HMP Bure a year on
For any community the news that a prison is to be built close by could prove to be a devastating blow.
But in north Norfolk a year on since HMP Bure first started operating, locals and officials are united in their praise of how well the opening of the prison has been handled and say rather than tearing the communities surrounding it apart, it has united them.
HMP Bure has been up and running as a Category C jail, serving as a specialist unit for male sex offenders, on part of the former RAF Coltishall site at Scottow since November last year.
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When the prison first opened, it had around 200 prisoners, prior to Christmas that had increased to 500 and by the end of April it was at full capacity with 523 prisoners.
Fears and concerns were raised at the time about the impact a prison, which housed sex offenders, would have on the surrounding area and whether it would signal the death knell for the local communities.
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But utilising another part of the RAF Coltishall site to create a new community – Badersfield, and keeping people informed of what is happening at the prison, has proved to be a winning combination according to local residents and councillors.
Sean Ismay, who runs a shop in what was the former Naafi building in Badersfield, said: 'It really is the case that you do not know the prison is there, a large chunk of personnel staff who work there, shop here and we have become a little community here.'
James Read, 26, moved to Badersfield two months ago. He said: 'One of the concerns we had when moving here was what impact living close to the prison may have, but it honestly is the case that you just do not notice it there.'
A liaison committee was set up at the end of last year to forge links between the new prison and the local community, the aim of which was to provide a communication channel between the prison at Scottow and local people.
Sitting on the committee, which meets quarterly, are councillors from county, district and parish level and a member of the prison senior management team and a representative from the operators of the visitor centre.
County councillor James Carswell, who sits on the committee, said: 'The liaison committee has done good work in tackling the fears of the community of what the prison would do. Everyone had concerns, but what we are seeing, compared to what is happening to RAF bases across the country, is that this former RAF site is being used and is becoming part of the community.
'Since the prison has been in operation it has benefited the economy in different ways, it has created jobs and made a positive contribution to the community.'
In fact estimates are that the wage bill of the prison brings in �10m per annum, with the 300 members of staff it employs and a further 100 people through various contracts, to provide things such as health and medical help.
Steve Blatch, strategic director at North Norfolk District Council, said when looking at the figures there was no denying the opportunities the prison had provided.
He said: 'It has been a significant source of employment and an economic generator for the immediate area and has had contracts which have been given locally as well as nationally.'
He also said from the liaison committee the only real issues raised were of a worry that the water systems would not be able to cope with the extra capacity of the prison, although this was investigated and found not to be the case.
The other issue was of improving road signs into Badersfield, something which was being looked at.
John Harding, chair of Coltishall Parish Council, said they had forged a good relationship with the Paul Cawkwell, the former Governor of HMP Bure, and hoped to do the same with his successor, Sue Doolan.
In fact the council felt so strongly about the work he had done they sent him a letter on his departure, thanking him 'for making the transition from RAF base to prison seamless and trouble free.'
The letter went on to state: 'As you know, there was some disquiet over the siting of a prison in our area, but it became clear that the development was in safe hands. Your willingness to meet us, hear our concerns and address them calmly and sympathetically was greatly appreciated.'
It echoes the voices of many others, including Simon Shaw, chairman of Scottow Parish Council, who when speaking of the prison said: 'We do not really notice it is there.'
The prison has an application currently under consultation to increase its size by building a 100 prisoner extension block.
The Ministry of Justice say the new two storey block would lie within the existing perimeter so not increasing the size of the prison site, the application also assures that the prison will remain Category C and that no trees would need to be felled, an issue which was given great prominence when the initial prison planning application was discussed, because it involved the felling of dozens of trees.
Barbara Rix, chairman of Buxton with Lamas Parish Council and Broadland district councillor for Buxton ward, said she was not overtly worried about the plans as the extension would be within the perimeters of the prison and would mean the prison itself would be able to house extra workshops to help teach the prisoners a trade.
Summing up the work of the liaison committee and the feelings of those she had spoken to in her ward, she said: 'We are very impressed with the management and security at the prison and the fact local people are being employed there. Locally, I think everything is going well.'