April 26th, Working Group set up re-examine the Meadowbank issue
Just before the May elections, the Labour party-group of Edinburgh Council tabled a motion to be debated at the Full Council Meeting of April 26th that essentially confirmed Labour’s commitment to sell off Meadowbank stadium. After lobbying from this campaign however, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP groups both tabled amendments to the motion which offered at least a temporary reprieve for the stadium.
It was agreed by the Council that a working group be set up to consider the whole issue and that the group report to the Council on June 28th.
This Working Group was to have an independent chair that could allow all the diverse opinions to be aired, and perhaps facilitate a degree of consensus, or if not, at least be able to report the views of the Working Group members to the Council.
The May 3rd elections brought an end to New Labour dominance of CEC, and instead put in place a coalition administration of Lib Dem/ SNP: two parties that had suggested pre-elections that they fully supported our campaign to Save Meadowbank.
Because of the alleged determination by Council officials (who remain unchanged by elections) to ensure they find the right ‘independent’ chairperson for the job, the Working Group didn’t meet up until June 21st. The Working Group report deadline was therefore extended to the autumn, and the Aug 23rd meeting of the Full Council.
Unfortunately, SMC had to lobby the new administration very hard even to be represented in these deliberations, but eventually we were allocated one space in the 19 member group, with the bulk of representatives coming from the Council.
As it turned out, the “independent chair” was perhaps less independent than we may have been led to believe. While the Council’s pro-sell-off line was backed up by a presentation by a team of around a dozen Council officials and contractors, SMC’s volunteer architect, Edinburgh University’s Dr Dimitris Theodossopoulos was refused entry to make a presentation on our behalf.
In fact, the chair was so independent that, although the vast majority on the Working Group disagreed with him, he drafted a report to the Council that ruled out refurbishment of Meadowbank. As it emerged, when chosen for the job of chairing by the Council officials, he was already clear that Meadowbank should be sacrificed.
Not the most ‘independent’ chair then.
Not the most ‘independent’ media then.
Of course, leaked copies of his draft report found their way to the media, and as intended, were presented by the Evening News as the views of the Working Group:
In case anyone might have missed this report, it was rehashed and published the following day as Death knell sounded for Meadowbank Stadium, EN, Sat, Aug 4th
Before the Working Group began its work, many were wary that the outcome may have been pre-determined to agree the sell-off of Meadowbank. Actual experience of the Working Group confirmed that suspicion.
As a result, SMC decided that we would have to re-engage the public in order to remind our elected representatives of the strength of feeling on this issue and make them aware that another phoney attempt at ‘consultation’ would not let them off the hook.
We therefore booked Meadowbank for our second public meeting on Aug 17th, the day the final report was to be published.
The Working Group chair refused to alter the report to reflect majority opinion, but uproar amongst the Working Group members meant that he was forced to present this as his own recommendations, and to make clear that the views contained were not those of the majority on the Working Group.
On publication of Christie’s report, the Evening News failed to mention the above detail when they wrote:
Terry Christie… headed up an independent working group… [which has] rejected pleas by campaigners to refurbish the existing stadium, advising the council to press ahead with a total sell-off of Meadowbank if it cannot raise the money for major new facilities on the site. Mr Christie described any attempt to refurbish the existing facilities at the athletics stadium as “short-term and short-sighted”.
Even today, while writing (13th Nov), the Evening News Editorial recommends that the Council should:
Demolish the ageing Meadowbank stadium, sell off the land for housing and use the cash for the refurbishment of the pool and the building of a new all-purpose stadium at Sighthill… This newspaper has always supported the [above] Meadowbank solution, which has since been backed by an independent review group.”
No mention in this “solution” of the”£30m funding black hole” then.)
Like a broken record, with these reports, the Evening News sticks to a line of misinformation that would bring any respectable publication into disrepute, and has certainly opened the eyes of SMC campaigners.
But the Evening News doesn’t care about a “narrow self interest[ed]” campaign; the sell-off “is in the best interests of the whole city”. Yes, of course.
Public Meeting, Aug 17th
On a cold August Friday night in the middle of the Edinburgh Festival, around 400 people made their way to Meadowbank to engage in local democracy in a way that most politicians appear very uncomfortable with. To paraphrase former Council leader Donald Anderson at our first public meeting, “the public just complicate matters when they interfere in the decision-making process.” (Donald was a principal architect of the plan to sell Meadowbank off to housing developers, and has since been made Director of PPS Scotland, the scandal-hit developers recently exposed in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme.)
As noted above, the meeting was designed to provide the public with an opportunity to remind councillors of the passion that won’t go away on this issue and to make the public aware of the ‘workings’ of a Working Group that had entirely failed to examine the feasibility of refurbishing Meadowbank, and instead had taken as a given that it must be sold off.
SMC architect, Dr Dimitris Theodossopoulos, gave the meeting the presentation that the Working Group chairman had prevented him from doing. Based on comparisons with similar projects, he estimated that the refurbishment of Meadowbank (including a new covered Velodrome) was something that could be achieved for around £18 million.
The Sighthill Arena was to have cost £53m, and did not include a Velodrome. It did however involve Meadowbank being turned into a housing estate, and Sighthill losing the only green space that still exists in the area.
Ex athlete and current Green Party Councillor Alison Johnstone was the only Councillor on the panel to offer her full support to the campaign, and condemned the fact that there had never been any survey into the cost or viability of refurbishing it, as had been called for on numerous occasions.
Once again, the strength of feeling, and the power of the arguments put forward unanimously from the floor of ordinary people and sports superstars alike, was enough to convince now ex-Council leader Ewan Aitken to bravely acknowledge that New Labour (now in opposition) had been wrong on Meadowbank.
Like Aitken, the young SNP Councillor, Rob Munn (who attended in place of local SNP Councillor, Stefan Tymkewycz), had clearly never seen so many people in one room before, but was able to explain that, “We have changed our position because we have been listening.”
The Lib Dems’ Gary Peacock, who was less phased by the occasion, also accepted that it would be a good idea to establish how much it would cost to refurbish Meadowbank.
Full Council meeting, Aug 23rd (Minutes)
Before deciding the fate of Meadowbank, the Council heard from deputations of SMC and various Community Councils (See 1 (e), page 4, of Minutes), as well as from Cllr Alison Johnstone (See Amendment 3, page 8 of Minutes) about the irrelevance of the Working Group ‘Chairman’s’ report.
Undoubtedly though, the fact that over 1000 members of the public came together to SMC’s two public meetings and made clear that we would not sit idly by while the Council sold off our public property was what led the Council to at last commission a report on.
a) the proposals to refurbish and upgrade the existing facility at Meadowbank;
b) the feasibility of providing a new athletics track, 2,000 capacity seated stadium and associated sports facilities also at Meadowbank;
c) all funding options and possibilities in respect of a) and b) above.
The Council also agreed that “an athletics track and sports complex should remain at Meadowbank.” Deputy Council leader Steve Cardownie explained that the Sighthill plan was now finished.
Report on Refurbishment proposals
After that decision, SMC architect, Dr Dimitris Theodossopoulos was invited to a meeting with Council officials in order to discuss his refurbishment plans. SMC allowed their £18m figure to be increased to around £27m due in part to updated figures for the area of the floor space, but primarily as a result of officials’ insistence that 35% must be added on for inflation and contingency costs.
SMC felt that the Council were now serious about working with the campaign with an aim to refurbishing Meadowbank.
We were wrong. The press were fed an exagerated £40m refurbishment figure, together with a few choice quotes designed to prepare us for the bad news we’d need to come to terms with:
City planning leader Jim Lowrie said today: “It’s a non-starter for us to try to find almost £40m for a refurbishment and it’s unrealistic to suggest that it can be done.”
“If we were to sell off something like a third of the existing site we may be able to raise enough money for a replacement running track, a smaller spectator stand and new indoor facilities.”
Part of the Council officials’ £40m includes £11m for a new Velodrome.
The cyclists that use the current Velodrome were quoted £3.5m.
Officials quote £12.6m for a new 6000 seat grandstand.
However, Kingsholm Stadium has 7000 seats and was built new this year for £6.2m
The Meadowbank grandstand only requires refurbishment!
The officials use a figure of £757,500 for a new running track.
Senior coach at Meadowbank, Bill Walker was quoted £168,000.
Why exaggerate the figures? It is difficult to conclude anything other than to imply that the refurbishment option is not viable, and to convince the public and even sympathetic councillors that the only solution is to sell a considerable chunk of the site for luxury housing in order to fund a small facility on the remainder.
If the political will existed, officials would be looking at ways of providing the phased fit-for-purpose refurbishment the people of Edinburgh want and deserve, at an economical price; not searching around for the most exaggerated costs they can find, in the hope that a decision to demolish would mean their figures would never be tested.
In a rare moment of honesty, a “council source” pointed out, There is no appetite for [the refurbishment] option among the council officials, but unfortunately for them, that is the number one priority for the campaign group.
The report commissioned by the Aug 23rd Full Council meeting is now due to be presented to the coming Dec 20th meeting.