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Expansion of Highpoint Prison approved despite fears over increased pressure on 'fast and dangerous' A143



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Highpoint Prison is to be expanded by more than half its current number of offenders without requirement for a lower speed limit nearby, despite the police’s suggestion that this would improve safety.

West Suffolk Council’s development control committee approved plans for three new housing blocks at Highpoint South yesterday, alongside development needed to accommodate increased inmate numbers.

This includes a two-storey building for vocational education and workshops; additional industrial workshop space; a kitchen building; a healthcare building; a pharmacy; a car park, and an extension to the existing gym.

The entrance to HMP Highpoint South. Picture: Mecha Morton
The entrance to HMP Highpoint South. Picture: Mecha Morton

The population would rise by more than 700 in a prison that, according to the most recent Home Office figures, houses1,248 offenders. It is already one of the largest in the UK.

During the meeting, some councillors expressed surprise over the Highway Authority’s acceptance of the 40mph speed limit on the A143 near Highpoint, which is about 12 to 13 miles from each of Haverhill, Newmarket and Bury St Edmunds.

The vote was passed with eight councillors in favour, four against and three abstentions.

The Highway Authority objected to the development plans in April of this year, citing Suffolk Constabulary’s advice that reducing the speed limit to 30mph and adding speed cameras may be merited to improve safety – and the fact that nine reportable accidents occurred near the site between 2017 and 2021.

The A143 runs between the HMP Highpoint South and North sites. Picture: Google
The A143 runs between the HMP Highpoint South and North sites. Picture: Google

Nick Clarke, Conservative councillor for Clare, Hundon and Kedington, said: “The A143 is a fast, dangerous road. Locals know that cars in ditches make a regular feature.

“Somehow, between April and July, the applicants have convinced authorities that the objections can be lifted, despite speed cameras and a 30mph speed limit being required in April.

“Claiming an extra 700 prisoners along with visitors, staff, contractors and police will not add to the road safety issues already identified – it is nonsense.”

Cllr Clarke asked that approval be deferred until the issues around highways and safety were resolved.

Deferral on these bases was proposed by independent councillor Andy Neal and seconded by Conservative councillor Peter Stevens, but voted down by nine votes to six.

Councillor Peter Stevens said: “In the design and access statement that the Ministry of Justice put out, access for visitors would be from railway stations at Newmarket and Dullingham.

The direct route to get from those stations and the A143 is along Broad Road.

“I’m surprised the Highway Authority have put no consideration into the excess use of Broad Road through the villages of little Thurlow. It is one-way and it is heavily used.

“There is no public transport available, so those working at the prison will have to use their own transport – along Broad Road.

“I cannot support this application in its present form.”

The A143 bisects the northern and southern sections of Highpoint prison.

Broad Road is connected to the A143 and runs through the villages of Great Thurlow, Little Thurlow and Little Bradley.

Independent councillor John Burns said: “There is no footpath along the A143, so you often see prison staff having to walk along the grass verge before crossing to get to the café and the shops on the other side.

“We are now going to have all these extra people at south Highpoint, and we’re not giving them any way to go and get their food or visit the shops easily.

“I would like to have seen the prison authorities thinking about their members of staff a bit more as part of this application.”

The Highway Authority’s decision to remove its objection to the plans was based on evidence from a speed survey conducted over one day by the applicant, the Ministry of Justice, which found the development would not detrimentally impact capacity on the A143.

A representative from the Highway Authority said: “While there is evidence of highway safety incidents on the carriageway running through the prison site, there isn’t a lot of evidence to suggest the accidents are clearly associated with the prison.

“We pushed the prison on data about staff movements between Highpoint South and the facilities across the A143, and they evidenced that there is very little flow between them.

“They said staff do not customarily go to these facilities, and I believe this is because they would need to change their uniform and then put it back on when they return. But I’m not a prison officer, so I don’t know if that’s the case.

“The information provided to us through the speed survey was robust, which explains why we changed our position and recommended approval.”

Independent councillor Jason Crooks described the point that staff don’t use the shops across the A143 as ‘nonsense’.