Sixty-two minutes of talks inside the Dean of Guild court room at Edinburgh’s City Chambers ended with a moment Hearts had waited 12 years for: Planning permission for Tynecastle’s new main stand was officially granted via a unanimous verdict.
Ann Budge sat twitching throughout the hearing and sounded unusually nervous addressing City of Edinburgh Council’s Development Management sub-committee. She needn’t have fretted. The committee of eight all voted to back her £12million proposal, subject to some safety conditions which Hearts must adhere to.
Tynecastle was declared “not fit for purpose” by former chief executive Chris Robinson 12 years ago as he tried to convince the public that one of Edinburgh’s greatest institutions should rent a home from someone else.
Yesterday, it took little over an hour to finally disprove that theory. Tynecastle can and will serve its local community, as well as Hearts supporters, staff and players, for years to come. It won’t be a few thousand huddled in a big rugby stadium, it will be more than 20,000 packed into one of the most atmospheric venues in Scotland.
Finally, a glass ceiling has been broken and Tynecastle can be completed. There can be no more talk of moves to Murrayfield, flats or Cala Homes buying Hearts’ spiritual home. A previous grandiose plan for a £51m new stand – unveiled by Vladimir Romanov’s associate Pedro Lopez in 2007 – would have made Stamford Bridge look like Musselburgh juniors’ Olivebank ground. That can also now be consigned to history. Work should begin next month to demolish the current, dilapidated main stand, designed by the famous architect Archibald Leitch and built in 1914. In its place will be a bespoke building with 7290 seats, taking stadium capacity to 20,099. It will also incorporate offices, hospitality lounges, a roof terrace, a directors’ suite, state-of-the-art dressing rooms, media facilities, ticket kiosks and Tynecastle Nursery School. Completion date is intended to be late September 2017.
Budge walked out of the chamber shortly after 11am yesterday carrying a beaming smile and a good deal of relief. She would have reluctantly gone to Murrayfield as a fan had Robinson’s plan to relocate Hearts gone through. Now she is heavily responsible for keeping them in Gorgie.
It was another poignant day in the club’s 142-year history. “It is a sense of relief because it has been a lot of hard work,” explained Budge. “There have been a few frustrations along the way and at times I thought: ‘This is never going to happen.’ The fact we have approval now is fantastic. Of course, it’s just the beginning of the real hard work. We’re raring to go.
“It is momentous. It’s really important for the district, the Gorgie and Dalry area. Without Tynecastle, what else is there in that part of Edinburgh? We’re also really close to the city. We really are a city club. We’re working on creating a heritage trail and trying to be part of Edinburgh city’s tourist industry. That’s one of our next objectives. We’re a city-centre club and we have to behave like one. That means looking after the community as well as our own supporters, plus taking a pride in Edinburgh. That’s what we want to do.”
Awaiting the verdict, Budge likened the emotions to that of two years ago, when she and the fan group Foundation of Hearts were negotiating to get Hearts out of administration.
“There were some similarities because when we were trying to get the CVA through and get the club out of administration, there were also last-minute hurdles. It was two steps forward and one step back. This time, it was nervous until it was done. This is the first time I’ve gone for planning permission on this scale for anything. It was a new experience for me and I didn’t really know what to expect. I understood the process but it was a decision-making meeting.
“Some of our supporters perhaps jumped the gun a bit and were assuming it was already a done deal as soon as this hearing was announced. I can assure you we knew it was not a done deal. We still had to convince the planning committee to approve it, so there was a degree of nervousness.”
The hearing began at 10am with David Givan from the council’s planning department talking through Hearts’ proposals using video screens around the Dean of Guild room.
Then the Health and Safety executive put their case forward. They advised there was no reason for the council not to grant permission, but explained that certain conditions must be met. Hearts must reinforce the wall separating Tynecastle and the North British Distillery in case of any spillage from two giant ethanol tanks on the other side. Sound-reducing measures have also been taken, with the club agreeing to reduce the size of the new stand’s outdoor rooftop terrace.
Budge then moved from the public gallery down the steps to address the committee, flanked by Hearts’ chief operating officer Scot Gardiner and architect Jim Clydesdale. It was Clydesdale who designed Tynecastle’s Wheatfield Stand, although it was Budge and Gardiner who spoke mostly.
They were asked questions relating to transport, parking, noise and light issues before Councillor Nick Gardner spoke.
“I feel, as one of the councillors of the Leith Walk ward, which contains the Hibs ground, I should take this opportunity to wish you well,” he said, with a smile. “You spoke of providing a 21st Century stadium to make your own customers welcome. Well, I thank you for that because hopefully it will make your guests from Easter Road and the Leith area welcome and suitably accommodated as well.”
A lone voice in the chamber was then heard responding: “Not too welcome.”
That lightened the mood of what had until then been a rather tense hearing. There was a clear sense of apprehension in Budge’s voice but her soft tones brought a calmness to the room.
When all the concerns had been aired, it was time for the committee to deliver their verdict. Not a single hand was raised when the convenor asked for any objections to the proposal, and as such Hearts received unanimous backing for their new stand.
The noose around the club’s neck, one which had held them back for more than a decade in a commercial and revenue-generating sense, had been cut. “It is important because for how long have people being saying: ‘What’s going to happen about Tynecastle, are we moving, are we staying?’ said Budge. Her approach throughout this project has been to maintain pragmatism. Indeed, in her speech to the committee, she mentioned the extravagant plans for a new stand revealed by Romanov – “the former owner” as she called him. She stressed she wanted to be more “realistic” after taking control of Hearts in June 2014.
One of the first things on her agenda was building a new main stand to increase Tynecastle’s capacity – and to improve the ground in tandem with the demands of modern football supporters.
“There were a number of constraints in terms of what we could do,” she admitted. “What we did was take a very pragmatic approach to it and say: ‘Let’s be realistic. How are we going to get this through planning? Let’s take a look at all the constraints that might be thrown at us.’
“There’s the height of the stand. Supporters have said to me: ‘Why aren’t we building a two-tier stand?’ Well, we can’t. There are practical constraints and they mean that’s not possible. We’ve tried to be practical as opposed to, ‘would it not be wonderful if we could get this’. Let’s be realistic.”
There was also more than a degree of irony for Budge when yesterday’s verdict arrived. She admitted she didn’t openly oppose Robinson’s plan to take Hearts to Murrayfield 12 years ago. In fairness, plenty other fans voiced their anger, to the point where they were marching through Gorgie to demonstrate outside Tynecastle’s main door. The “Save Our Hearts” campaign embodied the depth of affection supporters hold for the ground.
“I was sitting on the sidelines as a level-headed supporter at that time,” recalled Budge. “I was trying to weigh it up. Maybe it made sense, [going to Murrayfield] although I didn’t really understand all of the background. I didn’t get involved in anything until I got involved with Foundation of Hearts.
“I now understand a lot more than I did back then. I would have gone to support Hearts at Murrayfield. I think the issues surrounding the atmosphere, or lack of it, might have changed my mind over time, but I would’ve gone to Murrayfield, yes.”
A few thousand diehards in an open bowl amid a soulless atmosphere where their club are mere tenants doesn’t bear thinking about. Thankfully, that prospect has gone forever.