Plan to replace Edinburgh's World of Football with housing and student flats 'doesn't smell right' says councillor

A controversial plan to replace popular five-a-side pitches and a bowling alley with housing and student accommodation “just doesn’t smell right”, a councillor has said.

Saturday, 18th September 2021, 4:55 am

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Developers want to build buy-to-rent homes and student flats on the site of World of Football and World of Bowling behind Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange at Chesser.

But the proposal has sparked strong opposition and disappointment at the loss of the well-used facilities run by Capital-based Marco’s Leisure.

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A petition to save the World of Football and World of Bowling has attracted over 7,500 signatures Picture: Google Street View

Now Gavin Corbett, Green councillor for Fountainbridge/Craiglockhart, has highlighted comments made by Marco’s chief executive Paul Demarco suggesting there was no intention of closing the football or bowling centres – just days before the development proposal became public.

The Evening News reported the sale of the Corn Exchange building by Marco’s Leisure to the Academy Music Group and its renaming as O2 Academy Edinburgh on August 30.

And on September 1, Mr Demarco posted a "personal statement" on LinkedIn, recalling some of the highlights of his time running the venue. But he added: “Marco’s will of course continue to operate our leisure businesses which include the World of Football at the Corn Exchange and Marine Drive, the World of Bowling, Marco’s Pool Hall, and our brand-new project, Portal Mini Golf.”

However, London-based developers Watkin Jones submitted a planning notice with their proposals for the World of Football and World of Bowling site at the Corn Exchange to the city council on September 9.

Cllr Corbett said it seemed unlikely the developers put in their plans without Mr Demarco’s knowledge. “It looks saying one thing in public and doing another in private,” he said.

“World of Football and World of Bowling and the other facilities at the Corn Exchange are highly popular. Most people I’ve spoken to are puzzled and angry about why an Edinburgh company like Marcos would want to withdraw from Chesser with so little warning when there is so much demand for and goodwill towards what’s provided right here. Being told that there are other facilities at Marine Drive, miles away, does not cut much mustard.

“Now it emerges that, only two weeks ago, Paul Demarco was publicly pledging to keep the Corn Exchange facilities open while, at the same time, a proposal was being prepared by Watkins Jones to get rid of the lot in place of a commercial housing and student development.

“There is something that just doesn’t smell right about this whole process.

"It would be far better to press the reset button and concentrate on what needs done to keep sport and leisure facilities thriving at the Corn Exchange.”

More than 7,500 people have signed a petition to save the site. Bradley Gibb, who started the petition on the change.org site, said: “We can't let big business keep taking down the life lines for our inner city youth to make way for yet more student accommodation.”

Mr Demarco was approached for comment.

He has previously said the former cattle sheds which house the World of Football and World of Bowling require constant maintenance and repair and bringing the buildings up to standard would be an unsustainable cost for any organisation.

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