THE COLIN CAMPBELL COLUMN
FEARS are said to be growing that plans for a new £80 million “state-of-the-art” prison for Inverness have been delayed indefinitely. It’s a point of view. But I don’t know anyone whose “fear is growing” over doubts over this new jail. Unless, maybe, those who are likely to end up inside it. It was first estimated to cost around £50 million. Then the next we heard it would cost £65 million. Now the price tag has risen to £80.5 million. What’s next? £100 million? £120 million?
Even at the current figure it would be the most costly structure ever built in the Highland capital.
Seemingly unlimited amounts of money spent on a facility for accommodating criminals.
At a time when schools across the region are cold, leaking and branded “unfit for purpose”, and basic facilities like village halls and libraries may have to close because there’s no money to keep them open. There isn’t even enough money around to retain public toilets, earmarked for closure across the Highlands.
The new prison, as we have been regularly reminded with the release of pretty picture images of what’s planned, would of course be “state of the art”.
I doubt if more effort went into creating attractive images of artistic plans for the most recent Butlin’s holiday camp.
It was vital, we were told, that it would “blend in with and be part of the community”.
Like an extended new community centre with special door locks.
As I’ve written elsewhere before, a prison should not be “part of the community”.
It’s there to confine and incarcerate people who – for a specified length of time – are deemed not fit to be “part of the community”.
Now it has “slipped down the Scottish Government’s list of priorities”.
Given everything else they supposedly can’t afford it wouldn’t be surprising if it had slipped right to the bottom.
And at a cost of – let’s say £100 million as the cost keeps rising – that’s not altogether surprising.
This “state of the art” new creation would have the finest of facilities, the best of everything, no expense spared. With all those pretty artistic pictures to demonstrate how attractive it would look.
Maybe if they’d left out that “state of the art” bit we’d be in an altogether different situation.
Maybe without the elegance and artistry and resulting soaring cost it wouldn’t have slipped down the list at all, and still be on course to be built.
Maybe if the cost was £50 million rather than God knows what it could end up costing, Inverness would be getting its new jail.
Porterfield is said to be overcrowded and “not fit for purpose”.
I’m sure a stint in there isn’t something anyone would look forward to.
But a stint in there isn’t something anyone and everyone deserves.
There was a court story last year about a Ross-shire man who was being jailed for the 80th – yes, the 80th – time.
Prison life obviously wasn’t such a fearful deterrent for him.
By the sound of it Inverness will not now be getting a new prison, “state of the art” or otherwise.
So everyone whose “fears are growing” on that front will just have to do their best to keep out of the one we’ve got.
What blustering Blackford left off his Brexit list
SNP Westminster leader blustering Ian Blackford has listed 67 reasons for the Highlands to fear a “no deal” Brexit.
That’ll be the “no deal” Brexit he and others like Inverness MP Drew Hendry are down on their hands and knees every night praying for, still labouring under the delusion that it’ll drive a majority of Scots to go for independence instead.
There’s no doubt Blackford in his list includes matters of concern.
But what a crushing blow it’ll be for him and others like him if a Brexit deal is passed and his gloom and doom forecasts are rendered irrelevant.
Meanwhile here’s two or three items he’s left off his list about the consequences of Brexit.
An end to “freedom of movement” and the right of anyone and everyone to come here from countries across the EU would at last partly relieve our housing and accommodation crisis, and the situation where local people are unable to even afford rented properties as rental costs go through the roof.
It would partly relieve the pressure on schools – with many in Inverness overcrowded and struggling to cope. And on the NHS and other public services.
And it would increase the chances of local workers – and particularly older local workers – getting jobs. Too many employers – particularly in the hotel and tourism sector – have been spoiled for choice in recent years with an endless number of eager and engaging young Poles, Romanians, Lithuanians and others, often educated to university standards, to pick and choose from.
Many older local people seeking even the most basic and low-paid jobs, and more than willing to do them, don’t even get a look-in.
But don’t expect any SNP lists to include points like these. Nicola Sturgeon, Blackford, Hendry and co. are far too busy pontificating over the supposed plight of folk from the EU already here – despite repeated UK Government assurances that they are welcome and their right to stay here is guaranteed – and at the same time stoking up their fears over Brexit.
They want these people to believe the SNP are their staunch, compassionate and only defenders.
In the utterly cynical hope that if indyref2 does come around it’ll be payback time – and they’ll vote for independence. ‘
Options running out to challenge arrogant, contemptuous or shamefully silent councillors
THE Inverness Courier last Friday condemned the Ness-side Gathering Place scandal and the duplicitous way it’s been greased through under “delegated powers” by officials without being openly discussed by councillors.
In normal circumstances those involved might be inclined to pay some attention. But in this instance I strongly suspect the paper’s condemnation – robustly welcome though it was – won’t make a blind bit of difference.
Inverness news and views has covered this affair over the past two-and-a-half weeks since the scandal broke almost on a daily basis, from every conceivable angle.
We emailed every councillor in the Inverness area and beyond and received replies from a significant number who are angry and even outraged over the way it’s been handled. The “doughty fighters” as we dubbed them last week.
And we’ve received a much smaller number of replies from councillors Graham Ross, Carolyn Caddick and Trish Robertson who see nothing wrong with the delegated powers process and are happy to see the Gathering Place progress. The gulf between these two sets of opinions is vast.
But council leader Margaret Davidson has had nothing whatever to say on the issue. Neither have former Inverness provosts Alex Graham and Jimmy Gray. The current provost, Helen Carmichael, has said she understands the Gathering Place has been “favourably received” but a request for her to grant a special meeting of the Inverness Area Committee to thrash out the issue has apparently remained unanswered for weeks.
And then there’s Arts group chairman Isabelle Mackenzie, who seems to be the driving force behind the Gathering Place. She will brook no criticism on any front, dismissing it out of hand and making it clear that, according to her, the project will go ahead come hell or high water.
The fact that the planning application was lodged a few days before Christmas when no-one was paying any attention and numerous members of the public have said they were completely unaware of it and feel totally let down by the entire process seems neither here nor there to councillors who have wantonly forfeited the faith of the people who elected them.
So where do we go from here? Those behind this travesty have so far been impervious to criticism, from the public, from newspapers or from anyone else.
And as thing stand, the Christmas carve-up of the timing of that planning application and the protests against the Gathering Place will be swept aside. The £240,000 wall and concrete pathways which will disfigure and maybe even ruin a natural, beautiful and unspoilt part of the riverside and which virtually no-one wants or thinks necessary, WILL be built.
Only two things could change the course of events. Those councillors who have expressed their anger and outrage over the issue need to get even angrier and more outraged – and force colleagues and officials to provide answers to a host of questions surrounding the entire affair.
And if that doesn’t work a substantial public protest at the location of the planned Gathering Place fronted by a large YOU WILL NOT RUIN OUR RIVERSIDE banner would guarantee maximum media publicity and attract huge public attention. That could yet happen.
But it looks as of now as if these are the two only remaining ways which offer any hope of preventing the Gathering Place scandal from sailing on through. Because the determination of the small clique behind it cannot be underestimated. And having weathered the initial storm of protest, they now see nothing but clear waters ahead.