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Oil explosions risk to Auckland detainees

Oil explosions risk to Auckland detainees

Corrections Department overrode oil risk concerns

The British oil fire disaster is a situation that could be paralleled in Auckland because of Corrections Department heavy-footedness, says a critic of the recent construction of two Auckland prisons next to a big oil storage depot.

Women and young people are now locked in new detention facilities right beside a big South Auckland oil storage depot, against the opposition of health commentators, the Regional Council and the oil businesses themselves.

Environmental authorities and locals asked the Corrections Department not to build big expensive new women’s and young peoples’ prison facilities right next to a large oil tank storage facility in Roscommon Road, Wiri, Manukau City. But it went ahead anyway and the facilities are now in use.

The weekend explosion in Hemel Hempstead London which shocked and injured dozens of people has polluted a large area with a black cloud of toxic oil products which is spreading over southern England and heading for Europe.

Oil burning plumes have short term and long term health effects. British authorities have advised people to stay inside with their doors and windows closed.

A few years ago, against the advice of the Auckland Regional Council, environmental experts, concerned individuals and the business owners and users of the tank farm itself, the Corrections Department pushed ahead with the proposal and the prisons are now in operation.

Retired child psychologist Lyn Milnes is one concerned person who wrote letters and submitted against the women’s facility on health grounds when it was mooted in mid-2000.

But by the time the process went into formal hearings she had different prison problems of her own, because unbeknownst to her the Corrections Department had meanwhile been planning, and later that year announced, a new South Auckland men’s prison over her fence. The men’s facility near Te Kauwhata, North Waikato is now being constructed just over her farm fence.

When the women’s prison project was announced Lyn Milnes wrote letters to warn authorities of the dangers of locking up women, many of childbearing age, adjacent to a volatile oil storage depot and the Auckland airport. As a former child and family psychologist with training in physiology she was concerned about the possible explosions and fires causing long-term health effects like breathing problems and reproductive damage.

“The rest of us can move around. We don’t stay in the same place,” she said. “These women are locked up right next to the oil storage tanks 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s an horrific add-on to their sentences.”

Auckland Regional Council was also critical of the women’s prison proposal. It made formal submissions in September 2002 saying there had been lack of attention to the air quality and business planning rules in the regional plan.

Backed by sections 10 and 14 of the Proposed Regional Plan, a long list of submitters said the prison building service was proposing an unsuitable land use next to “industrial and trade premises that discharge, or have the potential to discharge, noxious, dangerous, offensive or objectionable contaminant to air” and was too potentially sensitive for the site.

“Corrections has too much clout, and the residents and Councils can’t really stand up against them,” Lyn Milnes said. “They don’t ask, they designate and go through a pretence of getting consent. They force everyone into agreeing. Even Auckland’s own environmental authority was ignored.”

“Most oil depots are carefully run, but you can’t rule out hostile activities or natural disasters,” she said. “Just like London, evacuation would be too hard because the roads would be clogged and people would have to stay indoors and hope for the best.”

“Now those detainees are locked up next to a potentially catastrophic explosion and fire like London’s.



1. This story talks mostly about the women’s prison application, because the youth facility went through earlier without many people noticing.

2. The ARC submission against the women’s prison was signed by Craig Shearer, Director of Policy, 23 September 2002, and the address for contact was HD Jarvis, Manager, Policy Implementation, ARC, Auckland.

3. The law firm Minter Ellison Rudd Watts handled the business submissions against the women’s prison, on behalf of New Zealand Refining Company Limited at Marsden Point and the operator of the oil tank installations, Wiri Oil Services Limited in Roscommon Road Manukau.

4. List of submitters to proposal with their addresses is available from Lyn Milnes. It included Auckland District Health Board. Other submitters include Homai kindergarten and residents’ associations, on various grounds.

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