A council director has been forced to apologise following a row over the process that gave Edinburgh Rugby’s new stadium the green light.
The city council’s chief planning officer was asked to carry out an investigation over the “Mini Murrayfield” proposals being determined by officers rather than councillors, after concerns were raised by planning convener Cllr Neil Gardiner.
In September, planning officers approved Edinburgh Rugby’s plans for a 7,800-seat stadium after a letter from Murrayfield Ice Rink was incorrectly not classed as an objection. Usually, any application that receives at least seven objections is brought before councillors for determination – but the omission left the application with just six objections. The plans were also not classed as being of “considerable public interest”.
Chief planning officer David Leslie said: “The case officer did make reference to the proposals being modest in scale, compared to the existing main stadium. This is not something that the officer at the time considered to be of considerable public interest.
“The representation from Murrayfield Ice Rink both supports the growth and retention of Edinburgh Rugby and raises an objection to the intensification of use of the site. On balance, my view is that letter could have been treated as a representation but the judgment of officers did not amount to unreasonable exercise of their planning judgment.”
He added: “In view of the wider interest of sporting venues and with the benefit of hindsight, it would have been advisable in my view for a team manager to have been consulted about whether or not it was appropriate to delegate the decision. It’s not unreasonable that they took that view but they didn’t seek a second opinion.
“It’s not considered that officers acted unreasonably in exercising their planning judgment but it would have been advisable that the application had been referred by them to committee and they could have sought a second opinion in doing that.”
The council’s executive director of place, Paul Lawrence, has written to objectors to apologise for the oversight and has publicly apologised to the council’s planning committee.
He said: “The reason that I wrote a letter of apology to the objectors to the application was to make clear that there was a process which we believe would have been more robust. I regret the position this has put you as a committee in and I am sorry to you for that.” Cllr John McLellan said Edinburgh Rugby and the SRU were “absolutely gobsmacked” that the decision had been taken without being scrutinised by councillors.
He added: “The expectation of the applicant was that there would be a hearing. When it didn’t have one, they couldn’t understand why. I think that’s probably as damning an indictment of the process as any.
“While I accept the report and I accept the recommendations and the apology to the objectors, it doesn’t particularly assuage them that the ice rink in particular believes the report is a whitewash.
“There’s page after page of problems that it raises. It still absolutely confuses me.”