Edinburgh Council has today agreed to an SNP/Lib Dem motion to proceed with a full refurbishment of the Royal Commonwealth Pool and to call for a further assessment of the options for Meadowbank.
Labour and Conservative councillors said they would prefer to demolish Meadowbank and return to the previous administration’s plan for a new stadium at Sighthill. Meadowbank’s Lib Dem councillor Gary Peacock voted against his own party, preferring instead to back a Green Group amendment.
Said councillor Peacock: “There can be no doubt how strong people feel on this issue. It is simply unacceptable to the people of East Edinburgh that land at Meadowbank needs to be sold to pay for the Royal Commonwealth Pool.
“£4 million funding from SportScotland is inadequate. It is unacceptable for Glasgow to get 80 per cent funding for the Commonwealth Games yet Edinburgh is expected to spend so much itself for just the one event.
“I am concerned at a vague motion that could give officials carte blanche to come up with proposals. I could go along with selling part of the land on the east of the Meadowbank site. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. That is why I am campaigning so much on this issue.”
The debate was centred on party politics with rival councillors taking pot shots at each other. SNP leader Steve Cardownie took much of this for his previous role as sports leader when he was part of the Labour Group. He responded by attacking his former colleagues. And he urged campaigners to “watch this space when it comes to the UK general election and what prospective Labour candidates say”.
Lib Dem leader Jenny Dawe proposed the successful motion. “We have to be pragmatic,” she said. “We have to ask why Labour allowed sports facilities to be neglected for so many years.
“We are committed to getting a report on refurbishing Meadowbank without impacting on the Royal Commonwealth Pool. We will continue to push the case for further government funding.
“Today we are committing to get underway with the Commonwealth Pool refurbishment and to do the best we can at Meadowbank. This is the best we can do given our financial limitations. The easiest thing to do would be to build at Sighthill but we won’t be doing that.”
Labour’s Paul Godzig criticised the new administration. He said: “This is a classic fudge to kick it into the long grass for a few months while they beg for more money. We have to look at what we can deliver. It is my belief that it is achievable to refurbish the Commonwealth Pool and build at Sighthill within the available funding.” And he took a swipe at people who think differently by accusing the Council of “being driven by those with narrow, parochial, self-interest.”
Tory Iain Whyte said: “There is a solution that is achievable and affordable. We will need to sell off part of Meadowbank. We had a proposal the whole council supported in 2004 to proceed with new sports facilities at Sighthill and refurbish the Commonwealth Pool. That is all achievable. Labour had a fudge in April because they took fright with an election coming up. We are suggesting we go back to the proposal for Sighthill.”
Alison Johnstone of the Greens said she was “very impressed” with the SNP/Lib Dem motion but wanted it amended to say only “non-sports land” would be sold. She added: “I welcome the determination shown by this administration to retain Meadowbank.”
Councillors had earlier been presented with a report from chief executive Tom Aitchison and heard deputations from several organisations who were united in their plea for Meadowbank to be retained. Speakers queried the accuracy of the report and were scathing about the way it made no mention of the loss of cycling facilities.
Alyson Cameron of Trinity Community Council highlighted the 2014 Commonwealth Games bid document which promised 100 per cent Scottish Executive funding for the Royal Commonwealth Pool. She said “This is part of a bid document to which nearly two million Scots have signalled their support, and supported by every political party. It is a clear, very public and long-standing commitment.
“It is ridiculous therefore the Council is sitting here today to consider the sale of a major part of Meadowbank to fund a project which the Scottish Government is already committed to fund.”
David Hoy, father of Olympic medallist Chris, highlighted the country’s cycling successes and warned the council they would be jeopardising Scotland’s chances of medals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games if they decided to remove the Meadowbank velodrome.
“Forty years ago the Council made a courageous and forward looking decision to build the velodrome. Since then we have produced three generations of riders. Edinburgh is renowned for the quality of riders we produce at Meadowbank. If you take away our track we will lose some if not all of these new talents.
“It takes eight years of dedicated training to produce a world level athlete. We need to support those already riding at Meadowbank or we will not have medal winners in our home Games. Give us the facilities and we will give you the athletes.”
Allister Watson, elected director of Scottish Cycling, highlighted youth and community use. He asked why Edinburgh was expected to sell a popular facility to fund the Commonwealth Games bid when Glasgow wasn’t.
Former councillor and MSP Donald Gorrie spoke as president of Edinburgh and Corstorphine Athletic Clubs. “We accept there are funding problems but we don’t accept it is right to mix up Meadowbank with funding for the Commonwealth Pool. What the athletes want is for the council to look at what is wanted and how it can be provided on a phased basis.” He called on the council to lobby Parliament for funding.
Graham Lamont spoke for the Save Meadowbank campaign. He reminded councillors this is a big issue with many thousands of people continuing to back a popular campaign. After the meeting he gave a cautious welcome to the decision. “We want to continue to work with the council,” he said.
A full report will now be prepared and presented to councillors in March.