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End of 2023 is earliest date for new Highland prison to be operational

By Scott Maclennan

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Edward Mountain at the site for the new prison.
Edward Mountain at the site for the new prison.

The late 2023 date for opening of a new Inverness prison is a step forward for the project which was postponed indefinitely three months ago.

But Highland Tory MSP Edward Mountain – who has kept up pressure on the Scottish Government which wants to replace the overcrowded and outdated Porterfield prison – believes it shows a lack of commitment.

He revealed the Scottish Government’s infrastructure investment plan progress report for April 2020 indicated that in December 2018 there would be no capital funding available until at least April 2021.

The report stated: “On this basis, and assuming construction work is able to start on site in April 2021, construction would not likely be completed until towards the end of 2023.”

The previous update report, published in September 2019, stated the expectation was that the new prison would be operational from March 2023 onwards.

Mr Mountain said: “While I expected the impact of the pandemic to hinder the progress of infrastructure projects in the Highlands, this announcement shows a total lack of commitment by the Scottish Government to build a new prison.

"Furthermore the Scottish Government has given no guarantees that funding will be forthcoming before the election in 2021.

"This shows the Scottish Government’s election promise for a new Highland prison has gone to the bottom of their list of projects. I suppose that there is chance that this might change again before the next election.

"The current prison continues to be overcrowded and is unfit for purpose. I will continue to press for a modern prison that the Highlands so desperately needs and deserves.”

A site for the £80 million development has already been identified near the Inverness Shopping Park.

Planning permission for the new prison was granted in 2017 and it was supposed to open last year. The completion date was then pushed back to 2021 and then again to March 2023, as exclusively reported by the Courier last spring.

In February, justice secretary Humza Yousaf admitted it would be sidelined in favour a replacement for Barlinnie and improvements to the women’s prison estate.

A spokesman for Mr Yousaf said: “The justice secretary met recently with Edward Mountain MSP to discuss progress with HMP Highland and to highlight the Scottish Government’s commitment to modernising and improving the prison estate.

“It does not bode well for a politician to play politics with the pandemic and it is disappointing to see.

“We have been clear that the development of HMP Highland is a priority and prior to Covid-19 work was progressing, however as with all major construction projects there will be inevitable delays due to Covid-19.

“Work will be undertaken by the prison service to assess the impact of Covid-19 on prison infrastructure projects in due course.”

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