MORE than 140 staff will move out of Hockley next week following the closure of Bullwood Hall prison.
The Ministry of Justice announced yesterday (thurs) the prison would be one of six closures in England.
The staff will be offered the choice of redundancy, relocation or retirement under the scheme to build a so-called super-prison.
Mick Roe, chairman of the Prison Officers Association, said staff had been left shocked by the sudden announcement.
Mr Roe, 57, from Leigh said: “They are devastated.
“There are 140 directly employed staff but it affects up to 200 staff if you take into account the private organisations which run our education and our health care systems.
“The prison is the biggest employer in the area so it will have a huge knock-on effect with local businesses.”
And now the question remains what will become of the site.
Mr Roe added: “What will happen to the surrounding community when they sell the land off?
They don’t know what they will get. It’s near Hockley woods so its in a good area. Homes are needed in the area so it’s likely it will be sold off for housing.
“I don’t think it will go down well locally.”
Mr Roe said staff were taking the news badly.
He said: “Personally I will retire but it’s devastating for the other staff. Many have been at Bullwood Hall for a long time so the closure has hit them badly. They will have to take voluntary redundancy or accept transfers.”
There are up to 230 prisoners at Bullwood Hall at any one time, and more than 800 passed through the prison between August 2011 and July 2012.
The vast majority are deported at the end of their sentences.
The current prisoners will be moved out next week and dispersed to other prisons across the country.
As well as Bullwood Hall, Canterbury, Gloucester, Kingston, Shepton Mallet and Shrewsbury will also close, while Chelmsford, Hull and Isle of Wight will see some accommodation reduced.
The plans affect 2,600 prisoners
A feasibility study on what would be Britain's largest prison in London, the North West or North Wales, holding more than 2,000 prisoners, is also to begin, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.
Announcing the plans yesterday, (thurs) Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: "We have to bring down the cost of our prison system, much of which is old and expensive.
“But I never want the courts to be in a position where they cannot send a criminal to prison because there is no place available.
“So we have to move as fast as we can to replace the older parts of our prison system."