Groundwork will get under way today for the creation of Scotland’s first purpose-built justice centre in Inverness.
It follows confirmation of a demolition warrant for a derelict former bus garage at the site on the Longman industrial estate being approved by Highland Council.
The £23million project has been warmly welcomed by city leaders as the key to unlock the city’s castle for use as a full-blown tourist attraction.
As a weekday courts facility, it currently offers minimal public access.
The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) is vacating the castle complex for its new facility close to Burnett Road police station.
The new V-shaped complex will feature six courtrooms and base for a raft of organisations connected with criminal justice. Its facilities will include support for victims and witnesses of domestic abuse, sexual violence and child abuse.
A radical revamp of the castle has partly begun. Its North Tower is expected to open to the public at Easter with a new viewing platform offering panoramic views previously enjoyed by only an elite number of office workers within the complex.
The justice centre will also have offices, a cafe and about 80 parking spaces.
A council debate is continuing about the quota of parking spaces for public use at the site.
The project will also enable the return of high-profile High Court cases to Inverness for the first time since a shake-up ended the practice in 2013.
A spokesman for the SCTS said: “The enabling works package is due to commence and we’re on progress to start construction in autumn with completion in summer, 2019.”
The service confirmed recently that the castle would be the subject of a public asset transfer to Highland Council.
It emerged earlier this month that victims and witnesses in sheriff and jury trials in Skye and Lochaber will face round trips of up to eight hours because their cases will soon be dealt with in Inverness.