Long-awaited plans for a new prison in Inverness have been hit by another delay.
It is the second time in a few months that the £80.5 million plan has been put back and the cost of the project has soared from the original £66m price.
When the plan was granted planning permission in October 2017, construction was supposed to start the following year and it was due to open this year.
The completion date was then pushed back to 2021, but Highlands and Islands MSP Edward Mountain says he has been told by the government it will now be March 2023. But he fears it could be even later than that, with few guarantees in place over funding. He has demanded “detailed explanations” from justice minister Humza Yousaf, saying the people of the Highlands “deserve nothing less”.
The Scottish Government’s decision to postpone building work has sparked fury in the Highland capital.
The new prison, close to Inverness Shopping Park, is meant to replace the Victorian-era Porterfield facility in the Crown area of Inverness.
Designed to hold a maximum of 103 inmates, last year occupancy levels were at an average of 120 per cent.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman would not go into details about why the project appeared to be falling down the pecking order, saying only: “Development of a suitable design is progressing. The Scottish Government and Scottish Prison Service are committed to modernising and improving our prison estate.
“The current priorities are development of the new female estate, a replacement for HMP Barlinnie and then HMP Highland.”
Mr Mountain said: “It is well known that plans for a new prison in Inverness have been in the pipeline for many years but this SNP government is guilty of underfunding essential infrastructure in the Highlands. We need a new prison and it is unacceptable that this government keeps kicking the can down the road.”
Emma Jardine of the Howard League Scotland, which fights for prison reform, is worried about the impact of overcrowding at Porterfield.
“Overcrowding was identified as the most serious issue confronting HMP Inverness in the latest inspection by HM Inspectorate of Prisons,” she said.
She added: “At HMP Inverness too many people are being imprisoned too far away from home, which is not good for them or their families. The fact remains that Scotland’s prison population is too high.”