Work on a new £66million jail in Inverness could get under way near the city’s biggest retail park early next year, it has emerged.
Prison chiefs are poised to lodge a full planning application for the new HMP Highland before the end of next month.
The local authority would then have four months to consider the proposals, with a decision expected to be made by planning committee members in the autumn.
Under public sector contract rules, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) would then be expected to invite bids from developers for the project, meaning work would be unlikely to start until the beginning of 2018.
The process was made more simple last month when Highland Council officials ruled that the SPS did not need to produce an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the facility’s proposed site.
Land to the rear of the retail park, bounded by the rail line and Stoneyfield Business Park, has been earmarked for the new jail, which would serve the Highlands and islands, and Moray.
The facility would house offenders in a maximum 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.
It would also feature facilities for family help and a community integration unit in addition to a prison block.
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.
A pre-planning application for the facility at Eastfield Way was lodged by the SPS in February after bosses confirmed they had concluded a deal for the land, and a community consultation event was held last month.
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.