The construction of a long-awaited new prison for the Highlands has been delayed again, the justice secretary has said.
Keith Brown today confirmed the new jail will not be completed until 2026 – two years behind its most recent anticipated completion date.
Outline planning permission was originally granted in 2017, with work initially due to begin in 2018 and finish by 2020.
The cost of the facility – last estimated at £92million – is also likely to rise, with Brexit cited as one of the biggest factors.
New facility will replace 119-year-old prison
The new HMP Highland will replace the overcrowded Porterfield Prison in the Crown area of Inverness.
It opened in 1902 and has long operated above its 103 inmate capacity.
In 2018, it was estimated that nearly 300 inmates from the Highlands were being sent to prisons hundreds of miles from home.
Labour shortage and rise in material costs blamed
Mr Brown said he would “would be surprised” if the total cost does not rise from the £92million already suggested.
He said tens of millions has already been taken from the Highland economy through the loss of European social and development funds.
“Brexit is completely unhelpful,” the justice secretary said.
“It is also now having an impact on labour shortages and on materials as well, but none of that we expect will impact on our 2026 completion date for the new prison in Inverness.
“The substantive work has to wait until the work that has to be done to comply with the planning permission is done. So that is the stage we are at just now.
“That will happen first before we are actually start to see construction on it.”
Inverness prison costs expected to rise
The cost had soared from £66million to £92 million due to delays.
After being pushed back several times, the prison had last been earmarked to open in summer 2024.
Originally, work was supposed to begin in 2018 and finish in 2020.
The project was previously suspended due to Scottish Government funding pressures.
The new prison will house 200 inmates and will be located next to Inverness Shopping Park, the city’s largest retail park.
It was initially going to be built in the Milton of Leys area before community disapproval shifted it to West Seafield.
Once complete, the new facility will be the main jail for the Highlands and Islands, and Moray.
Efforts to mitigate costs
Mr Brown added: “I think when you start these projects you really have to take an estimate of the best information available at the time.
“Of course, with Brexit everyone is starting to see price increases feeding through.
“We will try and do what we can to mitigate that. But it wouldn’t surprise me if that has an impact on the price.”
Mr Brown delivered the update as he visited the Inverness Justice Centre today, the first ministerial visit since it opened on March 30 last year.
The centre has enabled Inverness sheriff and justice of the peace courts to operate as hub courts during the pandemic.
Eric McQueen, chief executive of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, gave Mr Brown a tour of the facility.
He praised the efforts of those involved and the centre’s unique facilities for pre-recording evidence.
Mr Brown added: “There is nowhere else like this in Scotland.
“The facilities here for vulnerable witnesses and the facilities for remote evidence giving are fantastic.
“This will be a model for what can be done elsewhere in Scotland.