By Bruce Thompson, Chair Save Stockbridge
In 2014 plans were submitted and passed for the development of a huge retail, sports and entertainment complex at the Accies rugby ground on Comely Bank Road, Edinburgh. The developers then claimed that funding was in place and that there was so much interest in leasing the shops that it was a case of selecting the best applicants out of all those seeking space. Over five years later there is still availability and the developer, Raeburn Place Foundation, is still begging for funding which has now been acquired, in part, from the Bank of Scotland. Are the lenders aware of the potential problems of a ransom strip on the site? Do they know of the pending case in the Court of Session over ownership of the wall and six- foot strip and do they know of the huge amount of opposition to this scheme in a conservation and residential area?
Over 3000 local people signed a petition against this build. It is abundantly clear that the vast majority are still strongly opposed to it. The whole concept is unnecessarily grandiose and inappropriate to this attractive area, recently voted by the Sunday Times as one of the most desirable places to live within the UK. The enormity of the whole project—as high as three double decker buses, with facilities for over 5000 people including restaurants, a museum, shops, meeting/function rooms spectator stands etc. is totally out of scale in a residential area like Stockbridge. David Newlands, a well-respected businessman, and Chairman of the Raeburn Place Foundation says this is a momentous day for him and his fellow trustees. The development, he says, will transform Raeburn Place into a sports hub and community resource.
This statement might be true if the whole project was to proceed, but last year a decision was made to complete the build in two phases, the first, which appears to be in progress, is the commercial one, including shops, meeting rooms etc. No sign of any sporting facilities as promised to the planners at the original application stage in 2014. This is left in limbo and could happen in the future, providing always that funds are available. There is no certainty of this and in view of the difficulties incurred over the last few years in raising funds, it would seem highly unlikely that Mr Newlands vision of a sports hub will ever materialise.
This phase of the development would seem to be premature, but of course the Foundation are keen to show strength. They need to convince Marks and Spencer Food (the principle lessee) that the build is imminent. They need to dispose of their portacabins and create proper and modern changing facilities for both themselves and visiting teams. They have applied to the City planners to make “non- material changes” to the original plans, but these are extensive and would appear to be “material”, in which case a whole new set of plans would have to be submitted and the usual formalities gone through. The Planners will make a decision later this month. The Ransom Strip puts the developer in a dangerous situation, but one he seems to be ignoring. Having no access from Comely Bank Road for either pedestrians or vehicles will certainly prejudice the design.
The Foundation have failed to keep the Community Council updated or to advise them of progress or otherwise and have completely ignored local people who have suffered considerable anguish and concern for many years.
This might be a momentous day for the few in favour of this huge structure, but it is a very sad one for those nearby who are going to have to live with their memories of what it used to be like, cope with construction traffic and thereafter excessive noise both day and night.