DISUSED buildings in Newport city centre are an enticing prospect for criminals looking to set up cannabis factories.
“Organised crime groups” are even resorting to digging up streets to hack into the power grid and steal electricity to run their growing operations.
Superintendent Jason White told councillors on Tuesday November 28 that police had raided nine cannabis factories in central Newport over the past two months.
But the authorities had been “caught cold” by the scale of the drug growing operations and expected to find more in the area, he added.
Cannabis is a Class-B controlled drug and anyone convicted of its supply can face up to 14 years in prison.
The more than 9,000 cannabis plants Gwent Police discovered and seized in recent city centre raids has a street value of “several million pounds”.
Disruption to the power grid, caused by the theft of electricity, was expected to cost another £1 million, Superintendent White told councillors at the meeting.
He encouraged councillors and business owners in the city centre to be “professionally curious” and to “scrutinise and challenge” people whose behaviour could be linked to illegal cannabis factories.
The police are now working with the council’s new city centre manager to investigate the “management of unused buildings” in Newport which could be targeted by drugs gangs.
These properties are where such criminals “ply their trade”, he added.
In recent years, researchers have named Newport as the British town or city with the highest proportion of empty shops – but the council has previously disputed this claim.
Pillgwenlly ward Labour councillor Saeed Adan said the scale of cannabis cultivation in the city was on an “unprecedented” scale and was happening in the “heart” of Newport.
Superintendent White said he believed Gwent Police had “just discovered the tip of the iceberg” and said the force’s investigations of buildings in the city centre would make sure “the activity that’s going on in those premises is lawful and legal”.
In the meantime, he urged residents to come forward and report any illegal or suspicious activity.
“Simple things like when people are carrying fertiliser through the back doors, [or] hydroponics and bulbs,” he explained.
Councillors were also told that nine Albanians and a Vietnamese national had been arrested in connection with the recent raids.