John McLellan: Time to park this plan for Meadowbank housing

An artist's impression of the new Meadowbank ' but should it come with housing or a park?
An artist's impression of the new Meadowbank ' but should it come with housing or a park?
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Next week is decision day for Meadowbank, when final approval is sought for the new sports centre and permission in principle is sought for the redevelopment of the rest of the site for housing and commercial use.

The replacement centre is entering its final lap because, without wishing to second-guess the development sub-committee at the special hearing next Friday, rejection will need to be on planning grounds, not just because the councillors might think it’s not good enough.

But the rest of the site is a different matter because granting permission in principle opens the door to significant impacts on the surrounding communities, especially as the whole of the London Road area is being earmarked for more housing.

It’s a tough issue because even as it stands the council doesn’t have all the funding in place for the £46m sports facilities and needs cash from the rest of the site. Most will come from the council’s own housing account, essentially borrowing against future rents, and a straightforward commercial sale.

The Save Meadowbank campaign argues the centre is inadequate and the whole site should be used for sport, but now the old facilities are closed blocking the new complex could leave the area without anything for years.

In purely financial terms, maximising the return makes sense and given the city’s housing shortage so too does squeezing in as many new units as possible. Although the council emphasises nothing has been decided, the early drawings show maximum density with the outline of large apartment blocks looming over the whole of Marionville.

But is this fair on the surrounding community? From the public meetings and an admittedly unscientific survey I’ve been running in the area, the people think not, with all but two or three of the returns saying the housing plan is bad.

A few weeks ago I spoke to a Marionville resident whose planning application for a dormer on his bungalow was rejected because it overlooked neighbouring properties, but he now faces the prospect of having whole accommodation blocks staring down on his home.

And on a tour with fellow councillors of new housing developments last week, we heard how attempts to discourage car use in Greendykes by restricting parking simply resulted in other streets becoming clogged. The dogs in the street know when car parking is limited the problem just goes elsewhere and it will be worse in an area already bursting like Meadowbank.

I’ve been arguing for some time that these early concepts are more than the area can stand, and with permission already granted for turning nearby St Margaret’s House into homes the impact on local infrastructure will be even greater.

What also got me thinking was a recent visit to the new V&A Gallery in Dundee, a work of art in itself and now the focal point for the regeneration of the desolate Dundee waterfront scarred for years by dual carriageways and decaying dock buildings. Now it’s being transformed into parkland so the gallery is an attraction set in an attraction for people to enjoy even if they are not visiting an exhibition.

Is there not an opportunity to do something similar at Meadowbank, to create a park which links Marionville and Willowbrae, and provide a different sort of amenity for an area which lacks a strong focus?

Of course this would leave the council with a massive hole in the sports centre budget, but for local people this project is at best a replacement for something they already had, but with the promise of problems they never expected.

So should local people just accept the council administration’s case that it’s all for the greater good? With thousands of new homes set to be built on council land in Granton and millions poured into the tram completion to help link it up, I now believe the answer is no.

Up and running

Late interventions are to be expected with a development like Meadowbank, but next Wednesday the stadium working party established by the council’s culture and communities committee last year meets for the first time. If my colleague Councillor Mark Brown hadn’t asked I suspect it would have been quietly forgotten, but there is still a lot for the group to do even if permission is granted, given the snagging list already extends to things like where to put the long jump pit.

As for this week’s call by Edinburgh architecture lecturer Dimitris Theodossopoulos to have the stadium Grade A listed, that’s one way to ensure Edinburgh tax-payers are saddled with an asbestos-ridden money-pit for generations.

He likens Meadowbank to the Palazzetto dello Sport built for the 1960 Rome Olympics, but the two are as comparable as St Margaret’s House to St Peter’s.