A NEW block of cells will be built in the Capital to curb concerns about overcrowded police custody suites.
It emerged last month that some detainees were being driven to Glasgow because of capacity issues at St Leonard’s police station.
A report for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) said overcrowding at the 40-cell custody centre was a “frequent issue”, with lengthy booking-in times, poor privacy, and long waits in a crowded holding area.
Now a planning application has been submitted for a 20-cell holding area at Craigmillar police station, which currently has just two cells.
The extension would increase the Lothian and Borders custody capacity by a fifth – hiking the total number of cells from 92 to 112.
Police said the proposal was part of a wider range of measures to “better match demand with availability”.
But Edinburgh MP Mike Crockart questioned why the “major” extension was required, when the city has historically coped with its current facilities.
Mr Crockart, who served as a police officer in the city from 1990 to 1998, said: “Whilst it’s welcome that they are taking the report seriously and dealing with the facilities, you have to ask why the demand for cells has grown.
“Is this a reflection of changed priorities in the new Police Scotland?
“Perhaps we should be looking more closely at the reason for the increase in demand, rather than just building more cells.”
He said the proposal did not marry up with a recent major study which named Edinburgh the safest city in the UK, adding: “It rings alarm bells.”
St Leonard’s currently houses the 40-cell divisional custody centre, which is one of the busiest in Scotland. The Newington complex processed 17,850 detainees in 2013-14 – 6000 more than Aberdeen and Glasgow’s Stewart Street.
Elsewhere in the former Lothian and Borders force area, there are 26 cells at Livingston, 14 at Dalkeith and ten at Hawick.
The HMICS report found that, in some cases, cells in the Capital were so full that detainees have to be taken as far afield as Greenock or Govan – up to 70 miles away.
Inspectors found that prisoners were transferred from Edinburgh to Glasgow every weekend, although detainees from the west of Edinburgh are now being taken to Livingston.
A police spokesman said of the Craigmillar project: “We recognised the need to support custody operations at St Leonard’s. Extending facilities at Craigmillar is part of that work.”