THE new purpose-built multimillion-pound justice centre planned for Inverness is set to be improved before building work has even begun, it has been claimed.
The Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS) has announced an “improved design” for the building, including the provision of additional parking.
The centre, which will be built close to the former Inverness College UHI site in Longman Road, is set to be the first of its kind in Scotland, providing space for six courtrooms and allowing the sheriff court to move out of Inverness Castle – freeing that up to be turned into a major tourist attraction.
The new centre will also allow High Court cases to be heard in the Highland capital for the first time since 2013 and provide a base for other justice organisations including specialist facilities for witnesses and victims of domestic violence and child abuse.
Lack of parking, however, was one of the most controversial aspects of the development when it came before Highland Council’s south planning committee in February.
Then several councillors expressed shock at the fact that, while the development included space for disabled drivers and up to 86 bikes, all of the 83 other parking spaces planned were to be reserved for staff -use only.
Former Inverness Central councillor Donnie Kerr said at the time that the situation was “pretty atrocious” and raised concerns about witnesses and jurors having to park elsewhere and potentially walk to court alongside an accused.
The committee approved the application but called on SCTS to review the parking allocation.
This now seems to have been done, although the Inverness Courier was unable to get a response to queries about exactly how many spaces would now be provided before going to press yesterday.
It is not clear, either, whether the plans amount to actual extra spaces or are based on fewer spaces being designated staff -only.
Yesterday, Inverness Central councillor Richard Laird said public parking had not been his main priority when considering the previous application, but that he welcomed the news of more spaces.
“Obviously any additional spaces here are going to relieve parking pressures elsewhere in the city, which can only be a good thing given it’s the kind of development that is going to have people travelling from far and wide,” he said.
“I look forward to seeing the proposals when they come to planning.”
SCTS said other changes planned included “more efficient” use of accommodation as well as the creation of attractive public space and improved access through the provision of a new drop-off area.
SCTS chief executive Eric McQueen said: “Rather than simply a replacement sheriff court building, the justice centre will play a pivotal role in changing victims’, witnesses’ and offenders’ experience of the justice system, while providing high-quality secure criminal courts and flexible accommodation for our civil courts and tribunal users.
“By bringing together the right organisations we can all focus on problem-solving approaches to reduce offending and increase the opportunity for community sentencing, while providing the facilities and technology to remove the need for children to appear in court and, in the longer term, digital case management for summary crime.”
The new plans will go on public display ahead of a review by council planners.
They will be available to view on Thursday in the Magnus Room at the Royal Highland Hotel in Inverness from 3pm to 7pm.
Scotland’s justice secretary Michael Matheson said: “We are working with SCTS to deliver a justice system that is accessible and fit-for-purpose and the new Inverness Justice Centre will give the people of the Highlands access to modern facilities and support all in the same place, making a positive impact for local communities.
“I would encourage anybody with an interest in the proposals to go to the public exhibition and make sure they have their say.”
SCTS also failed to respond to queries about whether the revisions to their plans were likely to impact on the scheduled opening of the new centre.
Yesterday it said building work was due to begin “in late 2017” for completion of “main building works” in 2019, indicating it might not all be completed by then.
It had previously said the centre would be open in summer 2019.