'Sighthill stadium dream is all but dead'

THE death-knell for the Sighthill stadium plan was already sounding before the council elections as the soon-to-be-ousted Labour administration fought a desperate rearguard action in the face of opposition to the loss of the open space in west Edinburgh and the loss of a major sports facility in the east.

The Labour leadership had invested much time and authority in the plan to demolish Meadowbank Stadium and surrounding facilities to free up the cash needed for the new arena and the refurbishment of the Commonwealth Pool, but it soon became apparent that the groundswell of opinion was not behind them.

As Councillors Anderson and Aitken tried to build support they quickly found that perhaps the council's consultation process had not been as thorough as they believed and by the week before polling it was announced that the scheme would be reviewed with a view to saving some of the facilities at Meadowbank.

It would now seem that the new Lib Dem/SNP administration will go down that route and that means the retention of the athletics facility at Meadowbank and the refurbishment of the stand and the facilities underneath.

But the need to generate cash to pay for the refurbishment of the Commonwealth Pool means the sale of the site occupied by the neighbouring velodrome and sports hall must go ahead.

As new planning chief Jim Lowrie says, the Sighthill stadium dream is now all but dead in the water, but the question remains as to whether the smaller parcel of land now slated for disposal will produce enough money to upgrade both the existing stadium and the pool.

Refurbishing the swimming pool and diving facility cannot be avoided if Glasgow wins the right to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games, but if the Nigerian city of Abuja wins the day, then there will doubtless be further question marks over the city's entire future sports facility strategy.

What is obvious is that the grand plan to create a variety of pitches and surfaces in a city centre of excellence will vanish and the hoary question of finding a proper home for Edinburgh's professional rugby side will remain unanswered. The idea of movable stands to be wheeled out over the athletics track might work at new Meadowbank as it was planned to do at Sighthill, but once again a further increase in Meggetland's capacity might be an option, although whether there is enough space remains up for debate.

What should be clear is that a city like Edinburgh should not be without a top quality watersports venue, needs an athletics facility that will not be a white elephant but also needs an atmospheric team sports arena does not leave 5000 people feeling like they are sitting in a dentist's waiting room.

Doing nothing is not an option and the new administration is going to face the same challenges as the group it ousted. What it comes up with and how it deals with criticism will not only be a test of its imagination but of its resolve. Much can still be achieved on the Meadowbank site but let's hope it can be done quickly and without rancour.