RUGBY bosses have unveiled multi-million pound plans to build a 7800-capacity “mini Murrayfield” next to the national stadium.
If it gets the go-ahead, the new arena – to be built on the back pitches, currently used for training – will be the new home of Edinburgh Rugby, but could also be used for football matches and even concerts.
Scottish Rugby chief operating officer Dominic McKay said the new venue represented a significant investment and would be “great for the city”.
A detailed planning application was lodged with the city council yesterday. The hope is planning permission could be granted around September this year and the new arena would be ready for play by the start of the 2019/20 season in September next year.
Edinburgh Rugby has had several temporary homes across the Capital, including Meadowbank and Myreside and played the latter half of last season in the main stadium at Murrayfield.
Mr McKay said: “We’ve been looking for a home for Edinburgh Rugby for a number of years and we’ve been around a number of venues, whether that’s Meggetland or Myreside or Meadowbank, but we’ve never quite found the right solution.
“What we wanted to do was create a solution which was permanent and which was befitting of a professional club which is travelling across Europe, playing against counterparts in really quality venues.
“So we’ve decided to invest some considerable money form our Scottish Rugby funds to create this very special venue on our back pitches.
“We are fortunate to have space within the BT Murrayfield campus to comfortably accommodate this planned new facility and retain practice pitches for all elements of rugby.
“We see this as adding increased flexibility to the BT Murrayfield site and believe we have submitted a robust, sensible application and hope it will be viewed favourably.”
The proposal is for a venue that will incorporate a new 3G surface and covered spectator stands around all four sides of the ground.
Mr McKay said: “It will create a home for Edinburgh Rugby but because we plan to put down a 3G synthetic surface it could also be used for local club games, for academy matches and it might be able to be used for smaller football matches. “The capacity of 7800 will enable us to appeal to a different audience from a rugby point of view, but perhaps also from a football point of view.
“Our ambition is to make sure anything we invest in we utilise as best we possibly can.”
He said Scottish Rugby had shown it was open to other sports with Hearts playing four matches at Murrayfield while Tynecastle was being upgraded. Hibs, Celtic and Dundee United had also played there in recent times.
And he claimed the new arena could help Murrayfield in its bid to replace Hampden as the home of Scottish football.
“Having a facility that is available potentially for football makes our bid for those games out of Hampden even stronger.
“I firmly believe we’ve got the best stadium in Scotland here at BT Murrayfield. We’ve got the best sporting campus in terms of the estate. We’ve got a big lot of space around the stadium that you can have a lot of fun with fan zones and a great atmosphere before and after the game. And having an additional facility lends itself even further to our bid for Hampden.”
On the possibility of music or other events being hosted at the new venue, Mr McKay said: “Our first focus is to make it a fitting home for Edinburgh Rugby and make sure it’s a real success for the supporters and for the club.
“But there is a market in Edinburgh and the east of the country for a venue of the size we’re looking at. It has the potential to host non-sporting events. We’ve got the Rolling Stones playing at our main stadium in a couple of weeks’ time. Perhaps smaller musical acts might lend themselves to this sort of venue.”
He said the new venue would be significant for the city as well as for rugby.
“It adds a little bit of vibrancy to the wider Edinburgh economy.
“We recognise our civic duty both as an employer but also as a economic generator for this city both in terms of the rugby draw and the Six Nations crowds who come from all over Europe and we think having an extra facility on the back pitches will enable Edinburgh as a team to grow but importantly gives a facility for the city to use in lots of different ways.”
Mr McKay said plans for a hotel at Murrayfield put forward two years ago had been put on hold for now.
“We’ve got quite detailed plans on a hotel – but we’re not progressing them just at this stage.
“That’s something we’ll comeback and have a look at.
“We’ve worked up some great ideas and some great option but we’re just putting them to the side for the moment while we develop our deeper thinking around Edinburgh.”
And he played down talk of a larger “sports village” at Murrayfeld.
“We’ve got our focus very much on the new facility for Edinburgh Rugby.
“The wider campus estate, we are still at the foothills of looking at what the future might hold. But we’re very pleased we’ve got the flood prevention scheme now in place.”
And he said there were no plans for building houses on any part of the land.
“It is not in any plans we have. There are no discussions taking place around that.”
Edinburgh Rugby managing director Jonny Petrie said it was “hugely exciting” to have the prospect of a new purpose-built home.
“It has been a consistent challenge to grow the club without our own ground and we now have developed plans that meet the needs of our fans and reflect the direction we want the team to be moving in.
“The beauty of what we’re trying to do is it delivers us the best of both worlds – the intimacy and atmosphere generated from a smaller stadium which we don’t get from the main bowl, but it combines that with the existing facilities which are fantastic in terms of the bars, the suites, the retail opportunities – and we have the accessibility with tram network and the main arterial routes.”