Meadowbank has served Edinburgh well over the past five decades, hosting two Commonwealth Games and countless international and national sports events, but clearly at almost 50 years old it is reaching the end of its lifespan.
Edinburgh Leisure faces constant, costly maintenance work just to ensure Meadowbank can continue to operate. These are challenging times for council budgets but our recent resolution to bring forward proposals for a brand new complex show our commitment to sport and physical activity in the city.
We are working with the clubs that currently use Meadowbank to ensure we meet everyone’s expectations as much as possible. We have consulted with athletics but also gymnastics, football, basketball, boxing, judo and martial arts. So I was dismayed to read the Edinburgh Athletic Club suggest the redevelopment “will spell the end for the sport in the Capital”.
Edinburgh has a long history of success in athletics and Edinburgh Athletic Club has been at the centre of this, producing international athletes and becoming one of the top athletics clubs in the UK. The council wants to continue supporting athletics but this has to be put into the context of all the sports that we have to cater for and the financial climate we are in; usage and income maximisation is paramount if we are to sustain our infrastructure.
People from more than 84 clubs across 40 sports use the current site, as well as schools and community members, with just eight per cent of users participating in athletics. Edinburgh Athletic Club is the only athletics club which trains at Meadowbank and the facilities at the new centre must reflect this diverse and varied use.
Fears have been raised by some athletes regarding our suggested proposal to put a 3G pitch in the centre of the running track and whether that will be practical. Edinburgh Leisure and council staff have visited great examples of this layout in other parts of the country, including Saracens Rugby Club whose stadium provides a 3G rugby pitch with an athletics track outside used by two local athletics clubs.
Yes, it would be a change to current practices and there will be a need for coordination of times for using such facilities, but Edinburgh Leisure and the council are committed to making it work.
I don’t apologise for the fact that the new facility has been designed to be a regional centre rather than a national site for elite international events. The current financial climate dictates that we have to be pragmatic with our approach and as a local authority we simply cannot afford to build the sort of stadium we may have in the past. Glasgow has rightly received much investment in elite facilities for and following the 2014 Commonwealth Games and it simply would not be sustainable to replicate this to the same extent in Edinburgh.
Clearly in the last few days there has been much discussion across the city about the proposals, including views from national figures. The project has been steered by members from all parties since 2012 when I set up a working group as sport convener to reignite ambitions for a new Meadowbank. Collectively we agreed that we cannot sustain the current sports centre and it will need to close sooner rather than later. Now more than ever, I urge everyone to collectively get behind the plans.
If these proposals aren’t progressed, there is no Plan B and Edinburgh will have a major gap in its sporting infrastructure. I don’t think any of us who profess a love for active and healthy living can afford to take that risk.
Councillor Richard Lewis is sport convener at Edinburgh City Council