Demolishing Meadowbank velodrome ‘a backward step’

Picture: Jon Savage
Picture: Jon Savage
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ONE of the men who brought the Commonwealth Games to Edinburgh in 1970 has called on the city council to honour the commitment made then to the people of the capital and restore the Meadowbank velodrome instead of demolishing it and selling the land to fund the redevelopment of the stadium next door.

Tam Dalyell, the former Member of Parliament, believes the City of Edinburgh Council would be shortchanging its taxpayers if it were to sell the land on which the open-air fac-ility stands rather than spending money on its renovation – a course of action which now appears inevitable, given that all three proposals for Meadowbank published by the council last week include selling off the land on which the velodrome stands.

Speaking to The Scotsman yesterday, he insisted that the track which played a vital role in the development of our greatest ever Olympian, Sir Chris Hoy, should be preserved for future generations.

“I am one of the few surviving members – perhaps the only one – of the steering committee behind the first Edinburgh Commonwealth Games that was chaired by Sir Herbert Brechin,” Dalyell said. “One of the conditions of awarding the Games to Edinburgh was a velodrome provision.

“Some of the members of the committee wanted to renege on that commitment when the huge cost of the velodrome became apparent. But ferocious lobbying by Arthur Campbell of the Scottish Cyclists’ Union and Sir Herbert’s sense of honour combined to require us to go ahead and construct the velodrome.”

Campbell, who died in 2007, was president of the SCU for more than three decades, and also served two terms as chairman of the Commonwealth Games Council for Scotland. Brechin was Lord Provost of Edinburgh from 1966 to 1969, and was knighted the year before his term of office ended.

The two only won the day, Dalyell recalled, when it was explained to the dissenting members that the velodrome would be no short-term facility to be erected for the Games then left to fall into disrepair. “Mr Campbell was a very persistent champion of cyclists, and Sir Herbert insisted that because the city’s original petition to host the Games had included the commitment to build the velodrome, we had to go ahead.

“But, as I say, it was constructed at enormous expense. And that construction only went ahead when a promise was given that ‘the people of Edinburgh will have a cycling facility for all time’.”

Dalyell accepted that the promise was perhaps only a verbal one, never committed to print, and therefore in no way legally binding. But he insisted that, as far as he was concerned, that promise committed the council to maintaining Meadowbank or at least a near-identical facility elsewhere in the city.

“It is not good enough to say, as one councillor did last week, that there are facilities in Glasgow. The Edinburgh velodrome played a vital part in Chris Hoy’s formative years as a cyclist, and I was saddened as well as angered to hear him talk of its potential destruction.

“I’m sure my anger is shared by the shades of Sir Herbert and the other members, who would not be consoled by the fact that Edinburgh’s young people are being told they can go and train in Glasgow. At a time when Scotland is suffering from an obesity crisis among its young people, I am sure it is short-sighted to demolish the velodrome.”

Speaking to Radio 5 Live last week, Sir Chris spoke of his own sadness at the impending loss of the Meadowbank track. “We’ve got this amazing multi-million-pound facility in Glasgow now, which is going to guarantee the future of cycling,” Sir Chris said about the velodrome that bears his name. “But I’m very sad to see that Meadowbank is potentially going to be getting destroyed.”

The council said earlier this year that it would spend £1.2million on a cycling facility – likely to be an outdoor concrete track – at the Jack Kane Centre in Craigmillar. Many Scottish cyclists have lobbied for an indoor 200m track in the capital, to be used as a feeder facility for the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome.