PROTESTERS fighting a major £8 million overhaul of Scotland’s oldest rugby club have vowed to force a judicial review if the development is approved at a crunch meeting next week.
Planning officials will recommend that city councillors back the move to build a 5000-capacity stadium, function centre and retail outlets at Raeburn Place in Stockbridge.
Council sources said a recommendation to support the plans submitted by Edinburgh Academicals will be in a report posted on the council’s website tomorrow morning – with a key hearing held next Wednesday to decide the outcome.
Compelling arguments will be needed for development management committee members to overturn the position of planners.
Club chiefs and opposition groups Save Stockbridge and the Stockbridge and Inverleith Community Council will all be given time to present their cases at the hearing.
The ambitious seven-figure revamp has sparked a bitter planning war. However, the nod of approval for the plans – which include a rugby museum, new club facilities, and 1780sq m of retail space – would be welcomed by Accies’ executive chairman Frank Spratt.
He said: “Obviously we are waiting to see the council report before commenting in detail, but from the outset the only aims we have had have been to keep sport at Raeburn Place, protect the historic home of international rugby and provide high quality facilities in which young people can learn and enjoy rugby.
“All of the council’s and the Scottish Government’s policies support and encourage the improvement of town centres and the provision of high quality sporting facilities.
“Our proposals more than meet the requirements of council’s planning policies, so that north Edinburgh can have a sports hub of which it can be proud. The young people of north Edinburgh, and indeed the city, deserve no less.”
Save Stockbridge chairman Bruce Thompson said the group had already organised to meet with a prominent QC, in the event their battle to stop the development fails. The campaign group has also collected a petition with 3360 signatures opposing the development.
Mr Thompson said: “Should we lose next week, we are looking at discussing with lawyers about taking this to a judicial review. We consider about 90 per cent of local people are against it.”
Investigators cleared council officers in April of allegations they had colluded with developers over Accies’ plans.
However, monitoring officer Alastair Maclean said the issues raised were serious enough to merit recommendations over how the council department led by transport chief John Bury should deal with private developers in future.
Mr Thompson said campaigners were mainly against the size of the Accies development and the threat posed to Stockbridge traders by the proposed shops.
He said: “The Accies, despite what they’re saying to people, are only getting on average 100 to 150 people to their games. On that basis, our question is why do they need a new stadium with a seating capacity of marginally under 2500 and standing room for another 2500 people?
“In their retail assessment, they say they will take 12 per cent off the trade of the shops in Stockbridge. To be honest, for a lot of the shops, if they lose 12 per cent of business it will cripple them.”
Accies first mooted the proposal last year. The club has been forced to use portable cabins as changing rooms, with previous plans for a new clubhouse falling through three years ago.
Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack said increased traffic and the impact on Stockbridge’s skyline were other concerns, adding: “It’s vital that all these issues are addressed properly.”
Stars of the game back development
RUGBY greats have thrown their support behind the redevelopment of Edinburgh Academicals’ home ground.
Andy Irvine and Scott Hastings are among top Scottish internationals to voice their support for a new heritage museum, which would celebrate 150 years of rugby on the site.
The new stadium would provide covered seating for 2500 fans and could cater for another 2500 standing.
A new two-storey building would run along the southern edge of Accies’ playing fields at Comely Bank Terrace.
Another building, housing the changing rooms, would feature up to nine retail units on its ground floor facing on to Comely Bank Road.