A Chorley resident who used to work for the government department that wants to build a third prison in the village where she lives has told a reopened public inquiry that the plans can only add to the “frightening” number of near misses that already occur on roads in the area.

Wendy Porter was speaking at the start of a fresh hearing into a bid by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to create a 1,700-inmate jail in Ulnes Walton, close to the existing Garth and Wymott lock-ups.

The controversial blueprint for the so-called “super prison” – which sparked a local campaign in opposition to it – was thrown out by Chorley Council more than two years ago. 

An appeal by the MoJ against that decision was later recommended for refusal by an independent planning inspector.

However, Michael Gove – the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – had already decreed that his department would have the final say on the matter, having first taken into account the conclusions of that inspector, Tom Gilbert-Wooldridge, who chaired the public inquiry when it first sat in July 2022.

It was announced in January 2023 that Mr Gove was “minded to” to go against Mr Gilbert-Wooldridge’s recommendation – but only if he could be satisfied that the road safety issues raised at the initial hearing could be “satisfactorily addressed”.

The inquiry has this week been restarted in order to determine whether that is the case. The same inspector is at the helm and he will hear evidence about revised measures designed to mitigate the impact of the proposed new prison on surrounding roads.

Ms Porter was the first of several residents and councillors who queued up to make it clear that, for them, nothing had changed.

She told the inquiry that she had worked for the MoJ until just two months ago – and was still a government employee.

While she acknowledged that more prison places were needed, she said the proposed location was not the right spot – stressing that the first-hand experience of residents captured “daily” scenarios the official accident record did not.

“When you are driving…[along] Ulnes Walton Lane, you can be overtaking cyclists, close to blind bends, with horses on the other side or lorries. And the number of cars I’ve seen in ditches – or near misses where people have had to swerve on very narrow stretches of road – [is] quite frightening.

“Unless you live here and experience these things, it’s difficult for you to imagine what we’re talking about. Some of the road-calming measures are not going to make any difference to [the situation],” warned Ms Porter, who has lived in Ulnes Walton for 30 years.

Her concerns were echoed by Ulnes Walton parish councillor Nicola Watkinson – who lives on Ulnes Walton Lane – and told the inquiry that the tailbacks caused when cars get stuck behind cyclists or horseriders often led to drivers “overtaking on the blind bends”.

“HGVs thunder past my house, making it shake,” Cllr Watkinson added, describing the route as “narrow [and] windy, with tight bends”.

The planned category C jail would act as a resettlement prison for male offenders, preparing them for their eventual release. The MoJ has previously said it will create 643 full-time equivalent jobs.

South Ribble borough councillor Mary Green, who represents the nearby Moss Side ward, rubbished a suggestion made at the previous sitting of the inquiry that staff were likely to car share.

“That is impossible…it’s not a nine-to-five office that opens and closes at a certain time,” Cllr Green said.

Meanwhile, Ulnes Walton Parish Council chair Paul Doddenhof told the inquiry of an accident on New Lane in 2015 in which a young chef was killed.  He said the village did not want to see any more “needless deaths”.

He accused the MoJ of trying to “bludgeon a large square peg into a very small hole”.

“The assumption is that we have endless capacity on our roads and that with a simple bit of tinkering, they can always squeeze extra upon them without impacting safety – and [that] if they slow traffic down, just a touch, then any safety concerns completely disappear. [They] won’t.

“I want to…make sure that the inquiry is fully aware that the reality is much more complex,” Cllr Doddenhof said.

Meanwhile, veteran councillor Alan Whittaker, who sits on Eccleston parish, Chorley borough and Lancashire county councils, said the impact of the prison would stretch across a wider area than Ulnes Walton itself – affecting all of the surrounding villages.

“When and if the prison is built…the numbers of staff shift changes will exacerbate the already overstretched capacity of [the] rural roads,” he told the hearing.

The reopened inquiry will hear a range of roads-related evidence from experts representing Chorley Council, the MoJ and the Ulnes Walton Action Group.   It is expected to conclude shortly after Easter.