A NEW prison in Inverness looks set to be given the green light, after almost two years of negotiations.
The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) first unveiled plans to build a new £66 million facility in the city in early 2016 but faced a backlash from residents of Milton of Leys, where they originally intended to build.
Now councillors have been asked to approve an application in principle for the prison in its new location at Inverness Retail Park, subject to conditions.
This is despite objections from the retail park owners.
Plans for a replacement to the 112-year-old Porterfield jail in Crown have been lodged with Highland Council and have been recommended for approval by the south planning applications committee on Tuesday.
The application asks for a two-storey prison, with two separate three-storey house blocks and additional facilities including a visitors block, family hub and community integration unit, as well as staff and visitor parking.
A design statement by SPS insists that the building, to be named Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) Highland, will "avoid the appearance of a conventional prison", with a curved front which will also act as the main security wall.
There will also be an "attractive walking route" between the car park and prison entrance, the statement claims, and the site will also include space for future expansion if necessary.
Porterfield was built to accommodate 103 prisoners but regularly exceeds that number while the new prison would be capable of accommodating more than 200 inmates.
Although it goes against the local development plan, where the site is earmarked for bulky goods retail, in his report council planning officer John Kelly insisted the change will not prejudice the "economic prospects" of the retail park.
"The immediate locality is made up of a number of different land uses, the most significant of which is Class 1 retail but also includes class 3 restaurants, Class 4 offices and Class 11 leisure uses," his statement reads.
"The provision of a prison complex at this location will provide economic benefit in helping to safeguard existing jobs, potentially creating new employment opportunities and sustaining the local economy."
Three public comments have been lodged against the plans, including an objection from the Hercules Unit Trust, owners of the retail park, raising concerns about the negative impact the prison could have on the park, as well as traffic and drainage.
The complaint states: "The application fails to demonstrate that the proposed development would be an acceptable non-conforming use within Inverness Retail and Business Park that would not have an unacceptable impact on the operation of the park, particularly in terms of traffic and drainage considerations.
"The application does not propose any mitigation either in terms of physical works or financial contribution to address the otherwise unacceptable traffic impact of the significant scale of development proposed and does not present satisfactory proposals for foul and surface water drainage."
Other comments raise concerns about the new active travel link to be built by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) connecting the retail park with Inverness Campus and how it may be overused by prison traffic.
In response, the council has imposed 11 main conditions which must be met, including road improvements to prevent traffic backlog on the roundabouts at the retail park and a bridge over the railway line.
A further condition includes a requirement for public art to be installed at the site, in line with the council’s planning guidance for all major applications.
The Scottish Prison Service has previously said it would be aiming for a new prison to be open by 2020 or early 2021.