The proposed redevelopment of Edinburgh Accies’ historic home is proving controversial in Stockbridge. Here, Frank Spratt and Tannis Dodd debate the plans
By FRANK SPRATT
‘STATUS QUO IS NOT AN OPTION . . USE IT OR LOSE IT’
Although its significance is rarely recognised, Raeburn Place is among sport’s most historically important venues, one that ranks alongside Lord’s, Hampden Park or Cardiff Arms Park.
Not only was Scotland’s victory over England at Raeburn Place in 1871 the first international rugby match, it’s also regarded as the world’s first international sporting fixture.
Yet, today, the existence of Raeburn Place as a sporting venue is in peril. The financial collapse of Festival Inns before starting work on a new clubhouse but after demolishing the old one has left the ground’s owners, Edinburgh Accies, facing a financial crisis. The loss of rent from Festival Inns and the cost of hiring portable changing rooms now costs us £100,000 a year.
So far, that bill has been met partly by sponsors, but mainly by the remarkable generosity of a small group of club members. Yet that was always a stopgap and we now have two options – to develop Raeburn Place so that it is self-sustaining, or for Scotland’s oldest rugby and one of the oldest cricket teams to move elsewhere. That would be a tragedy for the club, but also for the residents of Stockbridge, who would see Raeburn Place sold to the highest bidder.
Residents wouldn’t be the only losers. Accies is a not-for-profit club, run by volunteers and open to all, which provides a unique community programme in many Stockbridge and north Edinburgh schools. Last year, our youth section, BATs (Broughton Accies & Trinity), delivered 750 hours of rugby sessions to 926 boys and 524 girls at no cost to the taxpayer. We are the only club to do this.
For us to continue fostering sport in our community from Raeburn Place, we need to balance the books. The development through which we hope to do this features changing rooms, a museum, gym and function suite, plus space for some shops below the function room (in keeping with other Stockbridge retailers).
We envisage a 2500-capacity stand, rising to 5000 if there are sufficient fans. Bigger crowds than this attended the Under-21 Rugby World Cup at Raeburn Place and the recent Scotland v England cricket match at neighbouring Grange – most coming on foot or by bus.
Although 77 per cent of residents questioned approve of our proposals, these are only consultative plans and we welcome constructive suggestions. Change is controversial, but the status quo is not an option. As we say in rugby, use it or lose it.
• Frank Spratt is executive chairman of Edinburgh Accies
‘LARGER RETAIL UNITS COULD POSE A HUGE THREAT’
As always when new plans or ideas are proposed, there will be differing opinions, both positive and negative.
There is sympathy for the predicament this historic club finds itself in and the site looks such a complete mess that perhaps anything is better.
The Edinburgh Academicals rugby club should have proper sports facilities and grounds in order to build and prepare for the future and not end up defunct. It has a potential to be a great community resource, especially for the sporting community. However, it is important to balance the opportunities that this development represents with its impact on the area.
One of the main concerns is the scale of the development. With a new hotel development and clubhouse, the whole landscape of the park will be changed. The view from the park is a protected view of Edinburgh in terms of planning law. Protecting such a view is important. The stadium will be highly visible and intrusive and not in keeping with the area.
The environmental impact of the new development, especially in terms of noise for the surrounding area and increased traffic on an already congested road, is another matter for concern.
Another concern is the retail aspect. Though the size of the units is not fixed, there are those that are worried about the possibility of large national businesses muscling their way in. A promenade of small shops or cafes could be sympathetic to the already existing businesses in Raeburn Place, but larger retail units could pose a huge threat. Lots of the little shops in Stockbridge have gone and there are large numbers of charity shops already. Surely this must mean we already have more retail space than the area can support, especially given the large Waitrose supermarket nearby.
The planned development is far- sighted and ambitious, but is the area and position of the site conducive to a development of this quality and proportion within the present environment?
Whatever happens, it will mean change in Stockbridge and let’s hope that it can be done in a way that benefits the community as a whole and not just a small minority of people. The club say they are open to listening to the community, so put them to the test and tell them your views.
• Tannis Dodd is a member of the Stockbridge and Inverleith Community Council, but is writing here in a personal capacity. The community council’s next meeting is on Wednesday at 7pm in Stockbridge Library. All are welcome.