Edinburgh Accies stadium: Protesters vow to fight

Campaigners mount a last-gasp protest outside the City Chambers. Picture: Jane Barlow
Campaigners mount a last-gasp protest outside the City Chambers. Picture: Jane Barlow
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RUGBY bosses today pledged to “work with their neighbours” on the development of an £8 million stadium development after the contentious scheme was given the green light.

Work is set to start on the revamp of Edinburgh Accies’ historic home in Stockbridge at the start of next year after a marathon council meeting ended with an 10-2 vote in favour of the project.

It means the country’s oldest rugby club can begin the transformation of the Raeburn Place ground into a state-of-the-art hub boasting a 5000-capacity stadium, new clubhouse, function suite and museum. It will be financed through a ground-floor stretch of nine retail units facing on to Comely Bank Road.

Protesters who claim the project will “tear the heart” out of Stockbridge have vowed to fight on by taking the decision to court. But Colin Innes, representing the club, welcomed the go-ahead – which had been supported by rugby greats David Sole, Scott Hastings and Finlay Calder – and said the club’s future had been secured.

He said: “Clearly in dealing with any major development there will be community concerns, but one of the key things going forward is working with our neighbours.

“We have a very good track record of working with the community.

“This means a clear and ambitious future that would give us the best rugby club facilities of any club in Scotland outwith the two professional teams.”

The planning decision brings to an end a decade-long struggle by Edinburgh Accies to build a new clubhouse.

Along with Festival Inns, the club won permission for a £15m hotel and rugby clubhouse at Raeburn Place in 2005 but the scheme was shelved, with contractor delays and the economic downturn blamed. After being briefly revived in 2010 it collapsed altogether when the pub group dissolved.

The current plans have divided rival groups in Stockbridge and even prompted claims of collusion between planning officials and developers which proved unfounded.

Pam Barnes, chairwoman at Stockbridge and Inverleith Community Council, said the decision was “immoral” and vowed to launch a judicial review.

“I’m horrified about how planning is done in this city,” she said. “Retail has big problems anyway but how can they put a shopping mall beside a little row of shops and think it won’t have an effect?

“I think this is a rich man’s club and I think it’s immoral. They are taking the income stream they need from the local community. I think this is 
fundamentally wrong.”

Gregan Crawford, vice-chair of the Stockbridge and Inverleith Community Council, agreed and said the development was “in many ways a shopping mall with a stadium attachment”.

He said: “There are large retail areas and I think you can predict the kind of shops that will be there and we will probably be seeing the more metro-sized supermarket. It will definitely compete with the boutique shops in the area.

“All these shops have survived everything but this will be the final nail in the coffin for them.”

Local residents have voiced concerns over heavy traffic on the 20 annual match days.

Officials, however, studied traffic around the stadia of Hibs and Hearts and said that the transport impact was 
manageable.

Artist impressions of the stadium show a tall stone and glass structure just under the height of the Victorian tenements opposite, with nine small retail units running along Comely Bank Road.

On the other side of the structure, facing Inverleith Park, there is seating for 2500 fans and standing room for a further 2500.

Ward councillor Nigel Bagshaw, one of two planning members to oppose the ambitious redevelopment, claimed there was “overwhelming” local opposition.

He said: “The application did not contain a coherent retail impact assessment, a full road traffic assessment or an environmental impact assessment, all of which would have worked against it.

“What we are dealing with here basically a set of shops with seats on top designed to serve the financial interests of Edinburgh Academicals rather than the broader community.

“I am genuinely concerned about the effect this development will have on the local shopping area and also on Edinburgh residents’ faith in the entire planning process.

“The council appears to have gone against its own policy just to accommodate one group’s corporate interests and I don’t think that is acceptable.”

Planning convener Cllr Ian Perry praised the tenacity of both campaign groups in what was a “divisive issue” but said the concerns raised were “insufficient” to derail the application.

He said: “It was clearly a divisive issue and a difficult decision for the committee to reach. Despite being a very ambitious scheme, we decided that the concerns raised were insufficient for us not to grant the application and that they were outweighed by the development’s potential economic and other community 
benefits.

“I recognise that campaigners against the development will be disappointed by the decision. It is, however, important to concentrate on the facts and guidelines we are obliged to follow when considering such an application.”

Don’t, don’t you want me . . to go quicker?

THEY fanned their faces with leaflets as the packed chamber roasted.

As the gallery cooled themselves, planning bods picked over the merits of a controversial plan to construct a new stadium for Edinburgh Accies Rugby Club – complete with function suite and room for nine shops.

The Dean of Guild Court Room wilted as discussions ran into the third hour. There was brief respite as jubilant singing from the High Street poured through the open windows.

A two-man Fringe ensemble had unwittingly lifted the stifling mood by harmonising Don’t You Want Me by the Human League a capella on the cobbles below.

A long and rambling rant by former lord provost Eric Milligan, above – who perhaps failed to notice the growing weariness around him – was met by tuts and groans.

As he chronicled what seemed like 150 years of Scottish Rugby history, the gallery revolted. A slow hand clap was launched which nearly saw the public ejected but served to sharpen Councillor Milligan’s focus.

DAVID McCANN