Kezia Dugdale: Meadowbank plans are still not fit for purpose

Edinburgh has a remarkable sporting history, with heroes such as Ken Buchanan, Graeme Souness and six-time Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy all proud to call Auld Reekie their home city.

Tuesday, 22nd November 2016, 9:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 22nd November 2016, 11:07 am
An artist's impression of the 'new' Meadowbank. Picture: contributed

With Hibs, Hearts and now Edinburgh City playing in the professional football leagues, Edinburgh Rugby at Murrayfield, Edinburgh Capitals in the rink alongside the hundreds of amateur sports clubs across the city, participating in and watching sport is never far away for any sports enthusiast.

But one venue stands out as having a history of bringing the best in the world to our beautiful city, and this was no more the case than when we hosted the 1970 and 1986 Commonwealth Games.

Meadowbank Sports Centre has been iconic for developing athletes and providing vital access to sport and fitness facilities for almost 50 years.

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That is why we must ensure the redevelopment of this important facility will carry on the legacy of its great past and create opportunities for individuals and local clubs to actually use the facility.

This debate surrounding the redevelopment of Meadowbank is now over a decade old, with it being ten years since the Save Meadowbank campaign stopped council plans to demolish the sports centre and build a new smaller stadium in Sighthill. This move would have left East Edinburgh with almost no accessible sporting facilities and local clubs such as Leith Athletic with their outstanding youth development programme homeless.

In recent weeks we have seen the publication of the new masterplan that the council hopes to submit as a planning application early next year; this plan would see the current building demolished and replaced with, “a mix of sporting facilities, housing and commercial property”.

As I look at these plans, I still worry about the footprint of sporting space we are losing.

The current plan proposes to keep an outdoor athletics track but with a reduced stand that will only hold 500 spectators.

We must allow our councils to be bolder in their plans and give them the backing to do it.

I understand Edinburgh Athletics Club; a club that produced Lynsey Sharp and has a waiting list of excited kids waiting to join, has already questioned the long-term vision that will see the athletics facilities shrink with the new proposal.

We need to be funding local government so they can build bigger sports facilities, with a pricing structure that doesn’t put people off. It shouldn’t cost someone £5 every time they want to use the outdoor running track, it should be no more than £1, or free!

This will allow Edinburgh to aim to attract events such as the Commonwealth Games once again.

This can’t be done by cutting the budgets of our councils.

The council is facing tough choices with the continued cutting of their budget from the SNP Government at Holyrood.

We need to invest in public services over the coming year. That’s the platform my party will be standing on as we head into next year’s local elections, so we can invest in facilities such as Meadowbank to benefit the communities it serves.

Kezia Dugdale is an MSP for the Lothian Region and leader of the Scottish Labour Party