BUCHAN councillors have given their unanimous backing to the erection of a new ‘superjail’ in Peterhead.
An application from the Scottish Prison Service, seeking planning permission in principle for the new jail at South Road, went before members of the Buchan area committee when they met in Peterhead last week.
The SPS wants the go-ahead for the demolition of the existing prison buildings and the erection of a replacement jail with associated access, landscaping and car parking.
Members heard that the new prison would be located within the existing HM Peterhead site, which extends to 17.5ha, located off South Road. It will be a 500-cell regional prison facility, unique in that it will be capable of holding different types of offenders in one location including male and female and young offenders.
The majority of the prison population is anticipated to be adult male. It is envisaged that the majority of prisoners will come from within the Northern Justice area and the facility will replace the current Prisons at HMP Peterhead and HMP Craiginches in Aberdeen.
Councillors heard that the facility will cater for both short and long-term offenders of varying history. The final design of the prison will require to ensure that segregation of the different offenders in terms of gender/age is maintained but that equal access to facilities is maintained.
To achieve this it is envisaged that the new facility will comprise three main accommodation blocks for men, women and young offenders.
While the existing facility at Peterhead would continue to operate during the construction phase of the project the SPS advise it is likely that the current site would be sold off for other development once HMP Grampian is completed and operational.
Peterhead Community Council has expressed support for the proposed development. It has also queried whether historical features of the current prison building and historical items retained within the prison could be displayed within the town, or the new site for viewing by the public.
Planners told members that the retention of the prison on the site will ensure that these are safeguarded and the expansion of the facility will maintain and improve the economic base of Peterhead by creating additional jobs and subsequent service opportunities.
At this time HMP Peterhead supports approximately 200 full-time jobs and it is anticipated that HMP Grampian would support up to 350 full-time posts once it is fully operational including the retention of the existing staff employed at HMP Peterhead.
Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting, Councillor Stephen Smith said that he fully supported the application, adding that he found it quite ‘incredible’ and ‘bazaar’ that there had been an objection from a local company against local jobs, particularly given the recent news of job losses in the local economy.
“It’s taken ten years to get to this stage and I fully support the 200 jobs there and the fact that this could be increasing to 350 at its peak,” he said. He was supported by Cllr Anne Allan who said she was “delighted” to see the new jail finally getting somewhere.
“The indicative plans look very different to what’s there at present and are very modern and I’m quite sure that when the existing prison is demolished it will be a site for more housing or industry,” she said.
Cllr Sandy Stronach said he was intrigued by the letter from Peterhead Community Council regarding protection of the prison artefacts.
“I think it is important that these do not get removed and I would like to see them retained somewhere people can see them and perhaps the museum service could catalogue the artefacts to ensure we keep our history,” he said.
Cllr Sam Coull asked whether the new prison could possibly be screened from view or visually softened in any way to those overlooking the bay area.
“At the moment it presents a grim scene for people looking across the bay for the views and I do not think the prison has done much for visual amenity. Could it be screened or softened any?” he asked.
Cllr Robert Thomas added: “I give my full support to this. It does seem quite a long time ago when a successful campaign was held to save the prison and I think it’s a welcome thing for the town.
“There’s a good relationship between the town and the prison and I think this is very good news,” he said.
Councillors moved their backing of the proposal which will now be considered at a full meeting on March 10.