Prison chiefs will be able to proceed with plans for a new £66million jail in Inverness without carrying out a detailed study of its impact on the local environment.
Highland Council officials have ruled that the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) does not need to produce an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the facility’s proposed site by the city’s biggest retail park.
The decision clears the way for a full planning application to be lodged with the local authority within the next few weeks.
Last month, the Press and Journal exclusively revealed the proposed design of the new HMP Highland, which would be built on land to the rear of the retail park, bounded by the rail line and Stoneyfield Business Park.
The facility would house offenders in 200 “purposely designed accommodation units”, vastly increasing capacity compared to the current prison at Porterfield, which has an average of 117 inmates in a building designed for 103.
An environmental screening assessment carried out on behalf of the SPS found the scheme was “unlikely to be significant environmental effects arising from the proposed development”.
It concluded that extra traffic in the area would be “minimal”, and no evidence of “protected or notable” species at the site, although the presence of badger setts was found and areas outside the site were identified as suitable for bat roosting.
Protection plans and further studies would be drawn up for potentially affected species.
In a ruling issued yesterday, local authority officials agreed that the “impact on the receiving environment, while possible, is not considered significant”, therefore an full impact assessment was not required before the planning application is lodged.
However, it added that the judgement “should not be taken as an indication that there are no environmental issues and planning permission will automatically be forthcoming”.
The new jail will serve the Highlands and islands and Moray, and feature facilities for family help and a community integration unit in addition to a prison block.
A pre-planning application for the facility was lodged by the SPS in February after bosses confirmed they had concluded a deal for the land.
The announcement sparked victory celebrations among Milton of Leys residents, who joined forces to successfully fight off hugely controversial proposals to build the city’s new jail in their community.