THE city council will consider providing land for a new “community stadium” for Hearts as part of a new joint venture announced today.
The club and council are working up a full business case that will look at whether they should go into partnership to create the new facility.
Today city leaders said that rather than investing large amounts of public money in the project they would consider providing council-owned land.
That opens the door to Sighthill Park – council-owned land that was once earmarked for a £53 million sports stadium – becoming a frontrunner for the site of any new Hearts ground.
The council wants to examine whether the joint stadium proposal would be financially viable and would consider providing land only if there was a wider community benefit. The new stadium could potentially provide a home for Edinburgh Rugby and school sports facilities.
If they move from Tynecastle, Hearts want to build in the west of the city, following consultation with their fans.
Hearts fans said in an official club survey that they would accept a move away from Gorgie if the new ground was within five miles of Tynecastle.
In an official city council report set to be published today, Steve McGavin, the council’s head of physical development support, said: “The joint study with Heart of Midlothian FC is complete and Hearts has also announced the results of its supporters survey.
“The report highlights the difficulties faced by the club if it remains at Tynecastle and it also provides a number of recommendations relating to potential partnership models. One of these models is a partnership with the council.
“At this stage, it is recommended that the council works jointly with Hearts to work up a business case which would identify whether a community stadium is sustainable and viable and, if so, how this could be delivered.”
Former Hearts chairman George Foulkes said: “It’s a good idea in principle but it would need to be on the present site or on land at Sighthill, which has been looked at for a community stadium before. If it was out of the city it wouldn’t really work as a community stadium.”
The Sighthill land is already earmarked for housing, so plans would be sure to face considerable opposition.
But the land was judged as suitable for a sports stadium by the previous Labour administration, which believed that a new stadium on the site should replace Meadowbank Stadium.
Hearts may still consider other joint ventures – such as with Sir David Murray’s Murray Estates, which owns large swathes of land near Edinburgh Airport.
Any council involvement would be likely to mean a new Hearts stadium would also have to include facilities that are open to the public, such as outdoor pitches or a fitness centre.
Deputy council leader Steve Cardownie, a Hearts season ticket holder, said: “Anything is worth investigating at this stage, but everything depends on the costs. I don’t know what Hearts would throw into the pot
“I’ve heard that Sighthill has been mooted, and I do not believe this is an appropriate area for a big stadium. Ingliston or the Gogar area would be an ideal place to build on. I think it’s fair to say that this would have to be cost- neutral for the council.”
Community stadiums have become popular among football clubs, including Brighton and Hove Albion, which moved to its new American Express Community Stadium this season. They are regularly used for non-footballing events, such as rugby or hockey, music concerts, conferences and exhibitions.
However, Councillor Tom Buchanan, the city’s economic development leader, said the council would not enter an agreement that placed a strain on the public purse.
He said: “We will not enter into a formal partnership; we will work with Hearts to see what they need to do. If they want to enhance community access then we will support them but it won’t be a formal joint venture unless they are able to identify land in our ownership.”
Hearts have promised to consult with supporters on future plans.
Director Vitalijus Vasiliauskas said: “It is important at this stage to stress that no decision has been made regarding the future of Tynecastle.
“However, the report highlights the severe restrictions the club is working under in relation to its current location and it is very clear that doing nothing is not an option.
“We are therefore keen to identify a sustainable and viable stadium solution for the club.”
Derek Watson, chairman of the Hearts Supporters’ Trust, said: “There is a meeting with the Hearts board on Monday and I expect I’ll learn more then.”