Richard Lewis: Give our Meadowbank plan a sporting chance

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Sprinting legend Allan Wells has called the plans for Meadowbank “sensible but limited”, and while I respect the views of such a celebrated and decorated sports star, I have to disagree.

In my opinion, the options that the independent consultants came back to the council with are realistic, taking into account the financial climate, property market, sporting landscape and views of professional sporting bodies, as well as of those clubs that use Meadowbank regularly. It identifies what is needed, as well as realistically what we can achieve and deliver.

I believe we all have a shared desire to see improved, more modern facilities at Meadowbank – not just for our own benefit but for the benefit of our next generation of sports stars. This is even more relevant as this year draws to a close and we look forward to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

If we want to be serious about the legacy of the Games and the London Olympics then we have to make sure our sports facilities are up to scratch.

There is no disputing that Glasgow is now the home of a number of major international sports venues and it would be foolish of us to attempt to replicate those facilities 40 miles down the road.

However, Edinburgh recently won the bid for the National Performance Centre for Sport and on the back of this we should look towards developing the city as a training ground for future athletes with a strong focus on encouraging Scottish sportsmen and women at the community and grassroots level.

This is what the proposals for Meadowbank seek to achieve. They recognise that the sporting landscape has changed since the London Road facility was built in the late 1960s and what Edinburgh needs now is a facility focused at a community and regional training level.

There is no disputing how well-used and how well-loved some of the current facilities are, and Sir Chris Hoy’s comments about the velodrome are testament to that. But ultimately, 
decisions have to be taken in the context of available facilities outside of Edinburgh so we can ensure spending is prioritised where it will benefit the maximum amount of people.

Yesterday the council’s culture and sport committee gave the plans unanimous, cross-party support and these, along with options for the feasibility study and public consultation, are due to be considered further by all councillors in February. The committee meeting yesterday demonstrated the political will that is behind this project and our desire in the council to rejuvenate the facilities at Meadowbank.

I do also believe that the thousands of people using Meadowbank day in and day out have just as much of a right to a view on what the venue will look like in the future. Over the coming weeks and months there will understandably be a swathe of opinion, discussion and, potentially, concern raised about the council’s plans for Meadowbank. This is no bad thing. We’re still at very early stages in the process and we want this to be a collaborative project with all involved.

Yes, we are conscious that Meadowbank is a lot of different things to a lot of different people and it will be hard to please everyone, but to drive this project forward it will be crucially important to have the backing and buy-in from the local community and sports users.

Councillor Richard Lewis is the culture and sport convener at Edinburgh City Council