Commercial Property: Inverness prison plan takes step forward

Planning permission in principle (PPP) has been agreed for the first new prison in the north of Scotland for more than a century. HMP Highland will replace HMP Inverness, also known as Porterfield prison, which is near to the city centre and is the smallest prison in Scotland.

Following positive pre-application discussions with Highland Council and a public consultation, the ambitious modern design for the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) received the planning committee’s unanimous support. It will be on land to the south of Inverness Retail and Business Park.

Meabhann Crowe, senior planner with Colliers International, who worked on the project on behalf of SPS says: “As HMP Highland will be the first new prison in the region for 112 years, we are pleased that the planning application process has progressed so smoothly and swiftly.

“Given that the proposal represents a technical departure from the development plan, this is an excellent result and particularly welcome, as it ensures that the Highlands, Islands and Moray areas will get a much-needed modern, fit-for-purpose prison facility in a timely manner.

“We expect construction work to begin on the site early next year.” The prison, which is forecast to be operational by 2020.

On behalf of the SPS, Colliers International’s planning team lodged the PPP for the prison.

It worked with a specialist consulting team, including BakerHicks, ITP Energised, Fairhurst Engineers, TGP Landscape Architects, AOC Archaeology and ERM Consulting.

Crowe says the project has been an interesting one. “It is not the usual type of development that lands on your desk everyday.”

Her task has been to prepare the planning team which required multiple disciplines including ecologists, transport consultants and those engaged in topographical survey work and to take the site forward through to determination and beyond.

She says: “Obviously the existing prison is quite old and in the city centre, but the client, SPS, were keen to retain their services and facilities in Inverness so it was important to identify a site which has good transport links and ticks all those other boxes.”

She says that understanding the needs of the SPS was key to the project. “The way the SPS operates is focused on rehabilitation and getting people back into communities and that very much depends on prisoners being located close to family and friends.

“What has made it so interesting is that it has been a learning curve in terms of how modern prisons function, which is probably true for a lot of consultants who have worked on this project.

“Particularly when we were working on the pre-application consultation to have that real understanding of what is trying to be achieved with the project.”

The project initially looked at a site at Milton of Leys but encountered opposition voiced at a public consultation.

Crowe adds: “It is interesting to be involved in a project where the design and the functionality of a building are so different and so modern, it looks like a modern education campus or a hospital and has a very different feel about it.

“The architects worked hard to make a new building that would sit well in an existing landscape.”