John McLellan: Meadowbank plan backed by one person at public meeting

An artist's impression of the Meadowbank redevelopment plan
An artist's impression of the Meadowbank redevelopment plan
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It was standing room only at the Edinburgh Palette for a community discussion about the Meadowbank Stadium redevelopment on Tuesday night and, on a show of hands, only one backed the plans.

The meeting was called by the two local community councils to help them build evidence to respond to the detailed planning application for the sports centre, which will go before councillors in May, and it was obvious from the start that feelings in the audience were running high.

An elderly lady with a talent for sound-bites described the whole thing as a concrete jungle and, looking at the embattled council housing officer on duty to provide information, said, “You’ve not got to live with it, but we have”, to much applause.

The problem with such a large and multi-purpose development is that lots of people have different reasons to dislike it, as they did when the original Sighthill replacement proposal was demolished ten years ago. The fears which lay at the heart of the original Save Meadowbank campaign were to the fore on Tuesday night and indeed some of the original campaigners were there too.

READ MORE: Anger over ‘lack of work’ at Meadowbank Stadium revamp

For the sports centre reconstruction itself, some are angry that what’s on offer is not a like-for-like replacement and the city will lose a stadium capable of staging international athletics.

Others are understandably concerned that the reduction in parking will just mean displacement onto other streets. A major user is the Edinburgh Athletics Club (EAC) which, in a letter to councillors this week, pointed out that the exclusion of throwing events from the main arena, the unresolved issue of installing judging and finishing line electronics and a clash between football and jumping areas are all significant difficulties.

Nevertheless, the EAC believes these hurdles can be overcome and wants nothing to stop the new ground opening in the summer of 2020 as intended.

On football, Edinburgh City has not added to its expression of disappointment a fortnight ago that the new stadium will not be fit for the professional game.

Now decanted to Ainslie Park, the club appears to be preparing for a future elsewhere which will obviously knock a hole in stadium revenues.

READ MORE: John McLellan: Get ready for a second Battle of Meadowbank

At least there is a detailed proposal to back or attack, but judging by Tuesday night it is the housing proposal which will cause the most difficulty even though specific plans are a long way off.

Comments left by the public on post-it notes amplified the worries expressed at a drop-in exhibition last week and there is a very obvious clash between council policy to discourage car use and neighbouring residents’ cynicism about any claim that limiting spaces will limit the number of cars.

Nods of approval greeted the call of “cloud cuckoo land” when this was suggested.

In many ways, the council is damned if it does or doesn’t when it comes to the master-plan. Produce outline drawings and models, as it has done, to give people some idea of what it might look like and assumptions are made that this is what will happen. If they didn’t produce anything, officers would be accused of not knowing what they are doing.

One sharp chap asked how the housing officer knew there would be 360 homes on the site but couldn’t tell how high the accommodation blocks would be.

The correct answer is it might be a target but the housing department can’t guarantee 360 homes because no detail exists and the density has not been agreed.

The council can’t ignore the clearly expressed fears about local impacts like parking, school places and GP capacity, and if the Drum Property Group thinks building at St Margaret’s House next door will an easy ride they should be watching this one very carefully.