Edinburgh Rugby is looking to build its own home in a new arena next to the BT Murrayfield stadium, The Scotsman can reveal.
The club is exploring the possibility of constructing a “mini-Murrayfield” on the training pitches beside the home of Scottish Rugby.
It is understood proposals for a 7,000-seat stadium are at an early stage and no application for planning has yet been made, but with objections it could be up to five years before the idea comes to fruition.
With interest in Scottish Rugby at a 20-year high, some feel the timing is right for Edinburgh and the Scottish Rugby Union (SRU) to act and secure a purpose-built base for the team.
The move would be a huge draw to rugby fans in the east of Scotland, who have long hoped Edinburgh could have its own stadium. BT Murrayfield is regarded as one of the finest stadiums in world rugby, but is only at capacity for Scotland international matches.
Edinburgh Rugby – one of two Scottish professional teams along with Glasgow Warriors – is attracting crowds of under 5,000. It is hoped a smaller stadium that would regularly sell out for home matches would provide a strong base for the team, which plays in the Guinness PRO14 league. The club has had several temporary homes across Edinburgh, including Meadowbank, Murrayfield and currently Myreside.
A source said: “If Edinburgh Rugby grow their crowds even by a modest amount, then everyone knows Myreside will struggle to cope with that.
“The SRU could invest in Myreside [home of Watsonians], but what would be the point of investing in someone’s else’s land when there is spare land at Murrayfield and developers looking to get involved.”
The back pitches at Murrayfield have long been viewed as ripe for development, especially as property values in the area are high.
But flooding of Murrayfield in 2003 and a subsequent public inquiry, together with the property crash, halted previous redevelopment ideas.
The property market has since recovered, the hotel sector is buoyant and a tram stop has been built close to the stadium, significantly improving transport access to the site. Flood prevention work has also been completed at the site. Proposals have recently been floated for a hotel and flats on the site by developer Murrayfield 2020.
A spokesman for Edinburgh Rugby declined to comment at this stage, but indicated more details would be revealed soon. No figures have been revealed, but it is understood the stadium could cost in excess of £10 million.
Issues that need to be ironed out include the future of Murrayfield ice rink and Murrayfield Wanderers, whose clubhouse is on the site. It is also understood Miller Developments has an option on some of the SRU’s land and may need to be consulted before any construction went ahead.
A similar set-up exists in Wales where the 13,000-capacity BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park is immediately adjacent to the Principality Stadium where Wales rugby and football international matches are played.
The move comes shortly after it emerged Murrayfield had been shortlisted alongside Hampden Park as the two potential venues for future Scotland international football games.
Legendary former Scotland and Lions prop and one-time SRU president Ian McLauchlan said: “I quite enjoy going to Myreside, always have, and it is much better than the vastness of Murrayfield.
“It is a club ground, though, and would need to be developed. You can’t expect the pitch there to be perfect when it hosts school, club and Edinburgh games.”
Edinburgh have looked at many options for a permanent home over the past 20 years, including club rugby grounds Myreside and Meggetland, athletics stadium Meadowbank, football grounds Easter Road and Tynecastle, as well as plans for a purpose-built stadium to be shared with athletics at Sighthill.
A rugby source told The Scotsman: “The proposed stadium is a great thing for Edinburgh, but it should have been done 22 years ago when rugby turned into a professional sport.
“It will give Edinburgh Rugby finally an identity. It will also a better commodity all round for presenting rugby.
“Edinburgh Rugby will become more attractive to fans and to investors when it has its own stadium.”
The SRU’s finances are in a far healthier state than they were when the “mini-Murrayfield” idea was first floated in the early days of professional rugby when the game’s governing body carried a heavy debt of about £20m.
The SRU’s annual turnover broke £50m for the first time last year following increases in ticketing revenue, broadcast rights payments and sponsorship.
The development plans are likely to prove controversial as they involve building on green space within Edinburgh.
Edinburgh Rugby last summer extended its agreement with George Watson’s College in a three-year deal to play their home games at Myreside, minus a few select fixtures.
This season has seen a big upturn in form under new coach Richard Cockerill, but crowds have been reluctant to flock, with attendances stubbornly remaining under the 4,000 mark.
It is not clear if the proposed new stadium would be available for other sports or events.