The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) has advertised for planning consultants to help it identify parcels of land where a larger replacement to HMP Barlinnie, in Glasgow's north east which has been criticised for being overcrowded, could be built.
In a tendering document made available to companies interested in bidding for the contract, it is stated that the site should be 200,000 to 300,000 square metres, compared to the current site which is 134,000 sq m, and that an initial search should focus within the Glasgow Council area.
But consultants said that matching the criteria would be a struggle, as a series of other conditions, such as being well-served by public transport, flat, away from "sensitive" land uses and ideally with a single owner, are included.
Eric Forgie, chairman of GVA James Barr, one of the country's leading property consultancy firms, said the issue was complicated further as the prospect of a huge prison in a new area was likely to be unpopular with neighbours. "It will be very hard in the Glasgow city boundary," he said. "It's more likely that they'll push to surrounding areas like South Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire. Off the top of my head I could think of three or four parcels of land. But it says it shouldn't be near sensitive land uses, which might include housing, and would immediately rule it out anywhere with a housing development nearby."
The Scottish Prison Service has acknowledged that locating a suitable site in Glasgow "cannot be guaranteed" and that the search may have to be extended to the North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, East Renfrewshire and Renfrewshire council areas.
Andrew Saunders, of AJS property consultants, said finding a site would be an "uphill struggle". "It may be that to satisfy the criteria they will need to look at sites that have already been developed and have reached the end of their useful life, but the problem being these will tend to be under multiple ownership and in areas close to other uses that may not compliment a new prison," he said.
"A site of this size in a brownfield location may also require an extensive upgrade to the existing infrastructure to support a prison, including new roads, drainage, sewerage and other essential services and this will come at a significant cost. A solution to the problem may be to utilise the existing Barlinnie site and refurbish where required."
Kevin Murray, of consultancy Kevin Murray Associates, described the request as "very challenging" as a result of the scale of the site needed alongside the requirement that it would be well-served by transport links.
The prison would be likely to be demolished if a replacement is built, planners said, although the SPS said no decision over its future had been taken and it could yet be redeveloped.
Barlinnie, which is designed to hold 1000 prisoners but often holds hundreds more, is important to the local economy, employing 572 staff.
A Scottish Prison Service spokeswoman said: "The purpose of this tendering exercise is to appoint a suitably skilled and experienced supplier to attempt to identify a site for HMP Glasgow, and we will take advice from the successful bidder.
"No details relating to the HMP Glasgow project or the future of HMP Barlinnie have been finalised. It is also worth noting that the SPS estates development strategy includes the possibility of redeveloping the existing HMP Barlinnie as an alternative to constructing on a new site. If and when we identify a site for HMP Glasgow, we will carry out an extensive community consultation with residents and stakeholders to ensure they are fully informed."