A COUNTY prison, which future Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs escaped from, will be expanded to take its capacity beyond 300 inmates after plans for new cells were approved. 

HMP Prescoed, a Category D open prison and farm that houses men and young offenders, has been given permission for 80 ‘Rapid Deployment Cells’ within its grounds near Usk. 

HMP Prescoed
HMP Prescoed (prisonguide.co.uk)

It also has permission to retain 40 additional Covid isolation cells put in place in April 2020 without planning permission. 

The prison’s current capacity is 250 but will increase to 330, as the 80 ‘Rapid Deployment Cells’, are replacing 40 beds in the Lester Unit, which was demolished in 2022 after it failed a fire safety inspection following the Grenfell Tower tragedy. 

Neighbours and councillors have expressed concern at the increasing capacity and the impact on the narrow, country lanes as prisoners travel daily in minibuses, to work as far away as Cardiff, Newport and Cwmbran. 

Eleven new members of staff will also be employed, with seven on duty at any one time. 

A Monmouthshire Council planning department report said most inmates still worked at the prison’s Cilwrgi Farm, half a mile from its main building.

Prescoed is a satellite to HMP Usk and dates back to the Second World War when it was a borstal. 

It was the scene of the first escape by future Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs in the early 1950s, who famously escaped from Wandsworth Jail in 1965 and fled to Australia and then Brazil.

Fellow Great Train Robber Bruce Reynolds later wrote: “He had gone to Usk in Monmouthshire, a grim old borstal miles from anywhere. It wasn’t his cup of tea and subsequently he left without permission.”

Biggs made his way back to London, where he was recaptured and, according to him, accused of stealing a schooner enroute containing 10 tons of corned beef at Lydney Docks.

All of the 120 new cells at Prescoed, which became a men’s prison in 2004, will be portable or modular buildings. 

The ‘Rapid Deployment Cells’ will be in two, two-storey blocks and six metres tall. They will include cells, two kitchens, two association rooms, two laundries, store rooms, an office, WC, kitchenette and phone room. 

The Covid isolation units are single storey and 2.8m high and are placed in two locations in blocks of three.  

The Coed-y-Paen Residents Association said around 100, or 40 per cent of the current inmates, “have to be ferried to their places of employment” through their village a mile from the prison.

It said: “This results in a significant number of minibuses travelling to and fro through our village. There also regular convoys of prison staff travelling through our village at shift change-over times.

“There is also the volume of traffic generated on prisoner visiting times. All of these traffic movements will increase when the prison houses an extra 80 inmates, on roads which are not suitable 

“Many of us recall when the prison housed fewer than 200 inmates, and this latest proposal will see the population climbing towards 350. It calls into question whether this rural site is really a suitable location for such a large establishment.” 

Llangybi Community Council said it was only aware of the proposals due to a meeting with the residents’ association and it wanted to support the comments made. 

A resident also objected due to the increase in traffic and the response of the council’s highways department which described the impact as “negligible”. 

The report, for the council’s delegated panel which approved the application, said the only impact was some additional staff parking. 

Permission has also been given for a replacement sewage treatment plant works.