A CRUCIAL study into how traffic would be affected by the £8 million Edinburgh Accies development was not carried out before councillors decided to approve it.
A full transport probe into landmark plans for a 5000-capacity stadium, function centre and retail outlets at Raeburn Place, Stockbridge, should have been completed, according to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO).
Investigators at the SPSO said council staff had misinterpreted Scottish Government guidance on such assessments and that the city’s own external consultants had warned that the probe should be carried out.
But it didn’t take place, and councillors backed the revamp in 2013 without key evidence in front of them, the SPSO found.
SPSO chiefs have now ordered a shake-up of how future applications are handled, with the city’s planning and transport departments under instruction to ensure relevant government guidance is clearly laid out in all official reports.
The development on land belonging to Accies – Scotland’s oldest rugby club – attracted a stream of objections over fears it would lead to soaring traffic levels and threaten independent traders.
Neighbour James McLean, who complained to the ombudsman, will now receive a written apology from the council for its “failings”.
He said: “The ombudsman’s report confirms that a full transport assessment should have been carried out – the ombudsman has upheld a major complaint that the council has not been implementing the guidance issued by the Scottish Government on traffic assessments.”
Council officials also came in for criticism over an e-mail, sent to the club’s developers, which contained advice on what information was needed to demonstrate that the plans would not create a significant traffic problem.
This “exceeded the extent of the advice and guidance” that officers would be expected to provide, the ombudsman added.
Mr McLean said: “The report confirms that council officers behaved inappropriately and that it would be for the courts to determine whether the ombudsman’s findings call the validity of the original consent into question.
“This decision will affect how traffic impact is considered for all future major developments, and the recommendations will better safeguard councillors, communities and the people of Edinburgh.”
A spokeswoman for Raeburn Place Foundation Ltd, which is leading the development: “We are not in a position to comment, as this is a matter between the council and the ombudsman. Our focus remains the commencement of the development in the near future.”
Council planning chiefs said they had “taken on board” the ombudsman recommendations and would be writing to Mr McLean this week.