New prison plans to go before Buchan councillors

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PLANS for a new ‘superjail’ on the outskirts of Peterhead will go before Buchan councillors later today (Tuesday).

An application seeking planning permission in principle for the demolition of existing buildings and the erection of a replacement brison with associated access, landscaping and car parking has been submitted by the Scottish Prison Service.

It will be discussed in further detail at a full meeting of Aberdeenshire Council on March 10 as it involves a proposal which is of regional significance. Members of the Buchan area committee will hear that the new prison would be located within the existing HM Peterhead site, which extends to 17.5ha, located off South Road, Peterhead.

It is proposed to locate the new prison on the southern section of the site presently occupied by a number of workshop buildings. The existing prison would continue to operate within the current buildings while work was progressing on the new facility.

In a report to go before today’s meeting, planning officer David MacLennan says the SPS has stated that the new facility will be a 500-cell regional prison, unique in that it will be capable of holding different types of offenders in one location including male and female and young offenders/children.

“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,” says Mr MacLennan.

Councillors will be told that the majority of cells will be single occupancy with approximately ten percent double units and 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,” says Mr MacLennan.

He continues: “While the existing facility at Peterhead would continue to operate during the construction phase of the project the SPS advises it is likely that the current site would be sold off for other development once HMP Grampian is completed and operational.”

Mr MacLennan says that two letters of objection have been received raising concerns about the new development. The objectors are worried that the new prison buildings will overlook a school and that it may lead to traffic congestion around the site which will adversely impact upon neighbouring land uses.

They also claim that the expanded prison will put additional pressure on infrastructure and resources in local area and that it could adversely impact upon visual aspect of Peterhead. A further concern is that the prison population poses risk to safety of local population due to potential for locating in area within which they have been detained.

Finally, objectors say that Peterhead is potentially unsuitable for new prison as the principle residents may be transferred from other areas of Scotland.

Mr MacLennan states: “The current prison due to its usage and design is no longer seen as being fit for purpose in terms of size and facilities.

“Given the long established use of the site as a prison facility the principle of erecting a new modern facility within the existing site is acceptable in land use planning terms as the new facility would have little impact on the established character and amenity of the surrounding area.

“The prison by its nature is self enclosed and once completed there will be little additional impact upon the immediate area in terms of the prison operations with the possible exception of increased visitors and traffic as a result of the increased and varied prison population to be retained within the facility.

“Other factors to consider are the economic and social benefits of retaining a prison facility in Peterhead. The prison is an established part of the town and supports a number of jobs and services in the area.

“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.

“In the locality, the prison is seen as an important contributor to the local economy and this was evidenced by the local campaign to retain the prison when it was previously considered for closure.

“In conclusion, it is considered that, subject to no adverse comments being received from consultees in relation to outstanding technical matters, that the principle of the development of a replacement HM prison within the grounds of the existing prison is acceptable,” he says.

“The use of the site as a prison facility is long established and the prison is an important facility in terms of employment and services in the locality that will continue to benefit the area.”

Councillors will be asked to give their views at today’s meeting prior to the application being determined by the full council.