Edinburgh arena plan gets boost from Birmingham’s NEC – John McLellan

Edinburgh deserves an exhibition and events arena, but the roads around Straiton are already congested and there are perhaps better alternatives, writes John McLellan.

Thursday, 5th December 2019, 11:40 am
Tom Ponton is hoping an 8,000-seat arena will be built at Straiton (Picture: Neil Hanna)

Publican and ex-councillor Tom Ponton still makes occasional appearances at city development meetings and he is the unlikely figure behind a new plan to build an 8,000-seater arena at Straiton on the site of the failed film studio project.

The studio complex was scuppered when a land court ruled a tenant farmer could not be evicted, but even though the arena might not need the farmland, an 8,000-capacity venue has greater ramifications. The studio would have provided a valuable national economic asset without generating thousands of new car journeys needed to reach an arena miles from the nearest rail stop.

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As anyone who has ever been to Ikea can testify, the approaches to Straiton at peak times are already congested, Sheriffhall tailbacks are virtually round the clock and the proposed improvements won’t make much difference once 4,000 new homes at nearby Shawfair are built. The city bypass is already at a snail’s pace from Hermiston to Dreghorn from 4pm every weekday when concert-goers would be heading to the venue.

Promoters Lothian Leisure Development, which Mr Ponton chairs, rightly point out that Edinburgh deserves an exhibition and events arena, concert agents quickly expressed enthusiasm and the concept has attracted the NEC Group which runs Birmingham’s international exhibition and arena campus.

Presumably NEC and the concert agents would be just as enthusiastic if a better location was available, like Ingliston or Gogar or even Granton. NEC’s interest looks like opportunity finally knocking, just on the wrong door.

Edinburgh’s housing problem

A new report by estate agents Savills for the Scottish Futures Trust estimates that by 2041 the number of households in Edinburgh will have risen to 291,764, a 25 per cent increase of some 58,395 homes from 2017.

The City Plan 2030 consultation aims to agree where they should be built, but the Council’s most recent housing supply audit identifies unconstrained space for just 22,696 units. Constrained sites could take a further 7,468 homes, but locations include places like Edinburgh Zoo which the audit helpfully points out is still used as a zoo.

The same document also points out that just under 3,000 new affordable homes will be completed in the next two years, with 7,358 by 2027 compared to an SNP-Labour commitment of 20,000. If Savills’ estimate is anywhere near true, there is a problem.

A question of the least worst pact

Sounding rather like a very bad comedy, it was Four Candidates and a Cooncillor at the Southside community centre hustings on Monday night where the hopefuls in the Edinburgh East election were quizzed along with me, standing in for the Scottish Conservatives’ Eleanor Price. It was very respectful and well-run, with some testing questions about Brexit, proportional representation, citizens’ income, NHS spending and with the possibility of a hung parliament, what alliances would we form to keep the Conservatives out of power?

Let’s just say the other panel members had to think a bit more than I did on that one.

Disrespecting the chair

Credit where it’s due, transport convener Lesley Macinnes apologised to Deputy Provost Joan Griffiths for accusing her of shutting down her SNP colleague Kate Campbell during a recent full council debate.

Cllr Campbell spoke for two-and-half minutes more than her allotted five, despite being repeatedly told by Cllr Griffiths to finish, and has apparently taken somewhat longer to express remorse for disrespecting the chair.

I understand Lord Provost Frank Ross has been asking concerned questions about events in his absence.

John McLellan is the Conservative councillor for Craigentinny and Duddingston