Future of Meadowbank

Tomorrow, Friday 29th June, Edinburgh’s Development Management Committee will consider a proposal which will determine the future of Meadowbank Stadium.

Incredibly, it’s taken over a decade to get to this point.

Shortly after being elected to the City of Edinburgh Council in 2007, I found myself on a working group of councillors, council officers, sports club representatives, community councillors, local people, and others with an interest, set up to consider options for the future of Meadowbank Stadium.

At that time, the main area of debate was whether ‘Meadowbank’ should remain at Meadowbank, or whether it should be demolished and a new stadium built at Sighthill instead. The Save Meadowbank group was formed at that point, and this group, made up of sports reps and coaches, community activists and including an architect and athletes past and present, met weekly and began to campaign to keep ‘Meadowbank’ where it is.

In the run up to that 2007 election this was a hot topic. My Lothian MSP colleague, Mark Ballard, and many others, spoke passionately of the need for it to remain a hot topic at packed meetings both in the stadium itself, and at the local Meadowbank church. Thanks to a great deal of hard work by many people, the campaign succeeded in ensuring that Meadowbank Stadium and Sports Centre would indeed remain at Meadowbank.

Recently, I found myself in that church once more. Yet again, it was packed. Video footage was played of the earliest meetings. There were wry smiles from those of us who’d been involved way back then. Yes, we really did look 10 years younger. While no longer debating the location of the City’s premier stadium and sports centre, much of what we heard from those packing out the hall was very familiar. The seven politicians on the stage were reminded by a member of the audience that we are custodians of the city and its public assets and that political terms can be short.

One man, commenting from the balcony, said “I live in Royal Park Terrace, overlooking the stadium, and the first I heard about this major proposal was when the Save Meadowbank campaign leaflet came through my door.” Others said “If it wasn’t for local campaigners we’d have had no opportunity to comment” and “This proposal doesn’t only affect local people. Meadowbank is used by folk across the city, and beyond.” This major proposal involves building housing on part of the existing sports centre site, in order to provide funding required to rebuild the replacement. And yes, that replacement is needed. Because, while some facilities within the building were upgraded, generally it’s in a poor state of repair. As a young athlete who began training at Saughton Enclosure in the west of the city, I regarded Meadowbank as a very special place to train and compete. As the years went by declining investment took its toll and where once you would have seen expert ground staff, you might now see cracked or missing seats in the stadium, weeds, and crumbling masonry blighting a sports venue that had hosted two Commonwealth Games.

I welcome news that the Council is now taking action to properly consider the additional revenue implications of capital investment in the future. Such policy change is long overdue. It’s not best value to invest public money in buildings, and then to fail to maintain them. It’s essential that new facilities are properly maintained by people with appropriate knowledge and expertise.

On Friday, the City’s Development Management Committee will meet to consider various reports. Policies relating to Open Space Protection and Protection of Outdoor Sports Facilities will be debated and they must be complied with. Of course, no details will be approved at this stage. The Committee Papers state “In conclusion, extensive community consultation will be carried out in order to ascertain the final mix of uses.” None of the elected representatives at the meeting can be in any doubt that public confidence in the consultation process is extremely low. So far, consultation has been viewed as non-existent or tick box at best. For this proposal to have credibility, it is essential that consultation is comprehensive and meaningful.

Those attending the meeting understand that the Meadowbank area owes much of its atmosphere to the Stadium and Centre. The open space around the venue and the trees, including the majestic Wheatley Elms were the focus of much discussion and appreciation.

Over decades I was privileged to see Commonwealth Games and Grand Prix meetings at Meadowbank. And let’s not forget the all-too-often-overlooked velodrome. Loved and appreciated by the biggest names in track cycling, it has played no small role in the sporting achievements of many. While the proposed velodrome at Hunter’s Hall has the potential to increase uptake and to be truly inclusive, the fact remains that if you’re keen to see world class track cycling, or track and field, Glasgow is the place to go. Yes, Edinburgh has done a fabulous job with the Royal Commonwealth Pool, diving venue for the 2014 Games. It’s an extraordinary venue. But Edinburgh will no longer host the annual international cross country meeting at Holyrood, an event that gave local athletes an opportunity to be on the same bill as sporting greats like Mo Farah. While Edinburgh is rightly famed for its architecture and culture, I’m concerned that the capital is yet to be convinced that investment in sport is similarly important. I’m currently looking into ‘spend per head’ across the country. I’ll let you know how I get on.

This week though, I hope that those who live, work, train in, or coach in Meadowbank are listened to. After all this time, we need to get this right.