BRINGING in grand slam heroes to back a huge revamp of Scotland’s oldest rugby club “smacks of desperation”, campaigners fighting the plans said today.
Some of the sport’s biggest names, including David Sole, Scott Hastings and Finlay Calder, are among 24 current and former players to sign a letter supporting a bid to redevelop Edinburgh Academicals’ home ground at Raeburn Place in Stockbridge.
Angry residents have said the scheme would “blight” one of the Capital’s most historic districts.
They insisted the letter – published today – was little more than a ploy to distract city planners from the proposal’s flaws.
Under the plans, the Accies ground would be transformed into a 5000-spectator venue featuring up to nine retail units, as well as a museum and new club facilities.
Accompanied by new images of how the proposed stadium would look after completion in summer 2014, the letter hails the development for providing coaches at Accies – who are currently spending £100,000 a year to hire portable cabins – with the “best club facilities in Scotland”.
The letter states: “With the inclusion of a rugby museum, it will make Raeburn Place a highly attractive destination for families and others to visit. The retail element will enhance and complement Stockbridge’s existing offering.
“These are carefully drawn up, and high quality proposals. We hope that Edinburgh Accies will be encouraged to stay in its historic home, and that Scotland can begin to close the gap with England in terms of rugby facilities and funding.”
Campaigners today branded the letter an example of style over substance and said residents and traders were best-placed to comment on what is good for Stockbridge.
Stephen Adam, 42, said: “There’s something gaudy about this letter – it smacks of desperation.
“I do not see why any reasonable person would put stock in what a rugby player is saying about the development and whether it will be good for Stockbridge. It’s the facts that should be driving this through – whether it’s good for the local community or not.”
Mr Adam admitted the club had financial issues to address but said these did not justify ignoring fears over the development’s impact on local business and traffic levels.
He said: “The argument that this is the best solution for the club might be true, but rugby is only one part of what’s going on in this part of the city.
“If this development was genuinely going to be good for the people of Stockbridge, it would not need this letter. Stockbridge is a conservation area and it seems wrong that a private organisation can get round conservation rules that are there for a reason.”
Bruce Thompson, chair of the Save Stockbridge campaign group, said the letter was evidence that Accies bosses had “delusions of grandeur”.
He said: “They’re just using these big names to grab people on to their side and boost their image, but these tactics don’t worry us.
“About 90 per cent of the people we have spoken to – now more than 2500 – are against this project.
“Neither residents nor the city planners should be influenced by this letter. They should be listening to people in the community here and not approving it just because Scott Hastings or David Sole says it’s a good thing.”
He said the Accies proposal drew “gasps of horror” from residents when it was unveiled.
He added: “The members of Save Stockbridge are not against improvement of the club’s ground. What we are against is the size of the buildings they are proposing. They usually have 100 or 200 spectators at matches, so why do they need a 5000-spectator stadium? And surely that capacity will provide them with all the income they need so why do they want shops?
“We realise the club is in financial difficulty but that doesn’t mean it should be allowed to blight the lives of everybody else.”
The concerns were rejected by the letter’s signatories and bosses at Accies, who said improvement of the club’s ground would not be viable without including retail space for rent.
Haddington-born Finlay Calder, who played 34 times for Scotland, said: “This has moved from a planning issue to a saga.
“Do people really want to look out at portakabins for the next ten years? I don’t think so.
“There’s no way out of this unless there’s financial muscle to assist it, which means bringing in retailers of note. With any development there has to be some compromise otherwise the ground could just be sold to the developer and Accies would be forced to consider their future in Stockbridge.”
Frank Spratt, Accies executive chairman, said: “[The club] simply cannot afford to pay £100,000 each year for facilities that are not up to scratch.
“Either we secure this investment, or we and sport will have to leave our historic home.”
• The 24 rugby stars who signed the letter are: Finlay Calder, David Sole, Andy Irvine, Scott Hastings, Roger Baird, Rob Wainwright, David Callam, Cameron Glasgow, David Milne, Stuart Moffat, John Frame, Jim Calder, Marcus Di Rollo, John Allan, Greig Laidlaw, Allan Jacobsen, Nick De Luca, Geoff Cross, David Denton, Ross Ford, Tom Brown, Tim Visser, Ben Cairns and Ross Rennie