Tynecastle sale to go through, but at what price?

THE sale of Tynecastle for housing will almost certainly be approved at an extraordinary general meeting at the ground tonight, but Hearts shareholders should be clear about what they are voting for.

They are not voting for the sale of the site to Cala for a minimum price of 20.5million; they are voting for the sale of Tynecastle at any price.

A majority yes vote will give the Hearts board a mandate to sell the stadium, regardless of whether the Cala deal goes through. Although a conditional sale was agreed last month, a number of obstacles need to be overcome before Cala is able to turn the 118-year-old ground into flats.

If these prove to be insurmountable, Hearts may need to cast their net elsewhere, with the likelihood that they would then have to accept a far lower price.

In a letter to shareholders, Hearts chairman George Foulkes explained: "If [Cala] withdraws... for any reasons... Hearts would have the benefit of any planning consents then received and would be at liberty to market Tynecastle to other interested parties."

If successful, Cala, quite naturally, will be out to achieve as big a return as possible. To that end, the company’s vision for Tynecastle is likely to differ markedly to Edinburgh City Council’s planning brief for the site. The council envisages a range of housing which includes family accommodation and flats affordable to those on low pay.

Most significantly of all, the council has suggested that any new development should have no more than 70 units per hectare. The area the council has identified for housing is just over 1.5 hectares, meaning that it foresees capacity for around 105 flats and/or houses on the Tynecastle site.

Hearts have already challenged this figure, but if the council were to dig its heels in, there is a real danger the figures would simply not stack up for Cala.

Trevor Davies, planning convener for Edinburgh City Council, said Hearts would receive no special treatment and that applications for planning permission would be treated like any other.

"This is a relatively small development and no more significant than any other in the city," councillor Davies said. "Just because it’s a football team it doesn’t meant we pay any more or less attention to it. Normal rules apply.

"The planning brief has to be adhered to. Having said that it’s a planning brief and not a strict set of rules and each case has to be judged on its merits. But if the application was wildly out of kilter it would be sent back."

Doug Smith, Hearts’ previous chairman, resigned because the board failed to convince supporters of the need to go to Murrayfield. Little has changed since.

Alternatives are available. Leslie Deans’ and Robert McGrail’s purchase and lease back plan remains on the table, as does Peter McGrail’s blueprint for the redevelopment of Gorgie. And last week it was claimed the Tynecastle pitch could be altered to comply with UEFA regulations.

The sale of Tynecastle will go through tonight but it is not the settled will of the Hearts supporters, the vast majority of whom want to remain at the ground. It is, in fact, the business plan of a handful of individuals who have placed the club in such financial peril that they have had to sell their home to survive.

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