Meadowbank Stadium was this afternoon given a stay of execution when its owners the City of Edinburgh Council, decided to accept a report that recommended postponing its demolition due to a £12 million funding shortfall. The report also mentioned the need to keep training facilities open in the run up to the 2012 Olympics and 2014 Commonwealth Games so today’s decision should mean Meadowbank will remain in its current form for at least six years.
Alternative proposals by opposition parties were all defeated as the ruling Lib Dem/SNP administration voted en mass to accept the report. But they ordered officials to look again at the cost of keeping it open. Council officials had repeatedly said it would require “a minimum of £11.9 million simply for the facility to remain operational” but SNP sports spokesperson Deidre Brock said: “There is no intention of spending almost £12 million to keep Meadowbank open. We will only spend a fraction of that.”
Marjorie Thomas, the Lib Dem spokesperson for sport, said she was “disappointed the project has had to be put on the back burner but it is the only sensible thing to do. We have to be prudent with our funds and the Royal Commonwealth Pool refurbishment has to succeed.”
Fellow Lib Dem Gary Peacock, who has twice voted against his own party on Meadowbank, declared: “I hope the delay will provide an opportunity for further consultation with users and the Scottish Government.”
Gordon Buchan of the Conservatives said: “In anyone’s book this is an abject failure for the Labour, Lib Dem and SNP administrations.” His colleague, Iain Whyte, blamed previous council leader Ewan Aitken and hit out at what he called a “misguided campaign” to save Meadowbank. “This frankly is a disaster for the future of sport in the region. We have missed our chance and lost our opportunity for a very long time.”
The three Green councillors continued their full support of the Save Meadowbank campaign. Their leader, Alison Johnstone, said: “Delaying the project makes sense. Cancelling the sale of land would make even more sense. How can leaving only £1.25 million in the Meadowbank bank account be described as prudent?”
Last March the City of Edinburgh Council’s Lib Dem/SNP administration, supported by the Tories, voted to scale down the hugely popular Edinburgh sports site, which hosted both the 1970 and 1986 Commonwealth Games. They proposed removing most of the existing sports provision and selling around forty per cent of the land for housing.
Thousands objected to this plan, which would have affected dozens of sports. A high-profile campaign to save the landmark site attracted support from many local personalities, including The Proclaimers, Radio One DJ Edith Bowman, X factor winner Leon Jackson and triple Olympic gold medallist Chris Hoy, who fronted a campaign video.
Now councillors have changed their mind, citing the credit crunch and a £12 million black hole in their funding plan.
But campaigners were critical of the report. Alyson Cameron of Trinity Community Council highlighted the lack of vision which goes against Edinburgh’s much vaunted policy of making Scotland’s capital the most physically active European city by 2020. She told councillors: “Every time we get here the plans get worse. First there was Sighthill, a great scheme but in the wrong place and a huge funding gap. Then there was mini Meadowbank, cuts in sports provision and unfounded. Now we have the latest plan, no new build at Meadowbank until 2015 and some improvements meantime. We need leadership from the Council. The people of Edinburgh deserve better.”
Save Meadowbank spokesman Kevin Connor highlighted the additional £12 million spend mentioned in the report. He distributed an alternative paper that quoted the Council’s own figures to show the total cost to the Council of upgrading Meadowbank would be just £16.5 million, half the cost of a rebuild.
Veteran athletics coach Bill Walker spoke about the need to retain and improve sports facilities. He criticised the plan to withdraw £4.75 million of funds promised to Meadowbank just seven months previously. Former councillor Phyllis Heriot, representing Craigentinny/Meadowbank Community Council, criticised the lack of consultation and mentioned a 4,000 name petition recently delivered to the Scottish Parliament.
Officials now have two months to report back to the Council with the likely costs of keeping Meadowbank open in its current form.