THE Scottish Government is being criticised for its “slow progress” on a new Inverness prison to replace the current outdated jail, with claims the costs have increased by more than £20 million in five years.
Mary Scanlon, Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands, claims “we are no further on” from when the SNP administration announced plans for a new prison back in 2009.
She highlights the continued overcrowding at the 111-year-old Porterfield Prison sited near the city centre.
Mrs Scanlon was responding to an update on the proposals to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee, of which she is depute convener, from Alyson Stafford, director-general of Finance in the Scottish Government.
The MSP said: “It is disappointing that there is still no site for the prison which is now scheduled for 2018.
“The original cost in 2009 of HMP Highland was £40m and is now estimated at almost £63 million yet the Scottish Prison Service state there has been no reported increase in the cost of the project since it was announced in 2009.
“The Scottish Government really need to get a grip on this project so that both prisoners and staff can have the facilities and rehabilitation opportunities fit for this century.”
As well as dealing with the overcrowding, she said a new prison would provide a boost to the building industry and create much-needed jobs.
She added: “The Public Audit committee were looking for clarification from the Scottish Government on the progress made with the new prison for the Highlands, and in particular an explanation of the time taken to prepare the project and the increase in costs since its announcement in 2009.
“It has been clear for many years that the current prison, which opened in 1902, is struggling to meet the needs of a modern prison service and has been subject to several critical reports.
“There was widespread support for a new prison when the SNP Government announced their plans back in 2009 but five years later it seems we are no further on.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
“As well as addressing the critical inspection reports and issues with overcrowding the construction of a new prison would be a great boost to the local economy, both in the building sector and with the creation of new jobs.”
In her answer provided to the Audit committee on a new Inverness Prison, Alyson Stafford said: “The characteristics of the existing HMP Inverness are such that the site cannot support phased redevelopment alongside normal prison operations.
“Therefore a new prison requires to be developed. Due to the size of the geographical area served by the prison and the fact that the main transport infrastructure is focused on Inverness, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) has a preference for locating the new prison within the city boundaries as close as possible to public transport hubs.
“Whilst SPS remains committed to delivering HMP Highland, the identification of a suitable site within Inverness has been a challenging issue. SPS were refused permission to purchase the original preferred site location identified at Beechwood by the site owner, Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE) in June 2009.
“To a large extent the cost of the prison will be a result of the nature and location of the selected site and any planning conditions attached.
“The project is included within the Scottish Government’s Infrastructure Investment Plan for delivery in 2018.
“A preliminary estimated budget of £63 million has been advised, but this will require review as more details of the project become available.”
A Scottish Prison Service spokeswoman said: “We have funds set aside in our budget 2014-15 to purchase a site for HMP Highland.
“Despite identifying a number of sites we have been unable to secure site as yet. The SPS will continue to work with the Highland Council to identify a suitable site.”
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS