Work starts on new £100m prison for Highlands after decade's delay
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Groundworks are finally under way at the site of the new HMP Highland after more than a decade of delay which has seen construction costs more than double.
Earth movers and demlountable buildings from contractors Balfour Beatty were in operation on the site next to the Inverness Shopping Park.
When asked, the Scottish Government was unable to say how long they had been there, how long the work would take nor what would come next for the project.
But sources say they are there to enable work and to allow for an ecological survey – the first work since proposals for the new prison were tabled in 2011.
Work was supposed to begin in August but that came and went without any real movement until diggers were spotted last week.
The current target date for opening is 2024 with some doubt whether that can now be met depending on when full-scale construction begins.
Despite that, the development was warmly welcomed by Highland MSP Edward Mountain who has campaigned for the new prison to be built since first elected in 2016.
But he warned that he was going to continue raising the matter because the initial groundworks must be followed up with the full construction.
“Finally progress at last for the new prison. I welcome that work is now well under way to complete the groundworks for HMP Highland,” he said.
“Once the groundworks are completed it is vital that this project moves swiftly towards agreeing the design and then constructing the new facility.
“There can be no more delays for the new prison that the Highlands was promised back in 2011.
“We should never forget that the SNP have worked at a snail’s pace over the last ten years to deliver this facility, while our hardworking prison staff have continued to work in a Victorian building that is no longer fit for purpose.
“I will continue to campaign for the new prison to be fast-tracked so that it is delivered by 2024.”
The need for a replacement to the Victorian-era Porterfield Prison in Inverness has been acute in recent years.
Currently, the Highland lacks a female custodial unit – something that would be housed in the new prison – and many male prisoners also serve their sentences outside the region.
That is considered harmful to reoffending rates because it does not harbour good family ties that can help keep people from engaging in criminal activity.
But delays in moving forward with the project since it was granted planning permission has seen costs rise, potentially even doubling.
The 2011 budget for the new prison was estimated at £52 million – it is now expected to cost anywhere from £98 million to £110 million.
It will also be at least four years late with current estimates of an operational date of 2024 – something that was cast into doubt by the £72.8 million for capital projects the Scottish Prisons Service got in the preceding financial year.
A Scottish Government spokesman repeated exactly the same statement that has been issued for more than a year, saying: “We are committed to the modernisation of the prison estate which includes progressing a replacement for HMP Inverness as a priority.”
Mr Mountain has previously argued that the slow pace and lack of investment shows the SNP is unwilling to fund infrastructure projects in the Highlands, accusing the party of being “very good at making promises and not delivering them.”