The Armadale Catch-22
Worrying news for Edinburgh fans with the recent application for "planning permission in principle" to flatten Armadale Stadium and build a new housing development.
The rather-dilapidated venue has been the Monarchs' home for very nearly 20 years, initially sitting in splendid isolation on the edge of town, now almost surrounded by private housing directly behind the pits and the home straight.
Despite their close proximity, the relationship between the speedway and the local residents has been relatively harmonious. Perhaps aided by the residents' acceptance that they knew of the speedway's existence prior to purchasing their new abode.
Speedway fans have become accustomed to property developers cashing in on the nation's tracks, but this one may be a slightly different kettle of fish. The planning application has (reportedly) been submitted to protect the future value of the land, rather than with a view to immediately calling in the bulldozers.
The trigger for the application was an indication from West Lothian Council that they intended to change the classification of the land to "Open Space" in the upcoming Local Plan. The Local Plan shapes the council's planning guidelines for the next decade and can be critical in determining future planning applications. It can be assumed that the council's motivation in changing the designation was to protect the stadium and indeed the continuation of speedway itself.
While that's quite unusual and welcome, it has had the unfortunate side-effect of perhaps accelerating the end of the stadium's life. The stadium owner has realised that a change of designation will preclude the possibility of building homes on the site and could leave him sitting on an area of land that he can ultimately do little with. In order to protect his investment and keep his options open, he has submitted this application to establish the principle that housing could be built on this site at some future point.
As part of the pre-application, a consultation event was held at the stadium in April. Twenty-eight people attended the event, only four of whom identified themselves as speedway fans. The developer's view of the feedback received was:
"No issues were raised that require to be addressed at this time. The Speedway enthusiasts commented that they would not like to see the facility disappear. At present the Monarchs do not wish to commit to a lease and are only on a periodic rental from March to October. However it is not the intention of the stadium owner to stop the speedway from taking place. The whole reason for this application is to avoid a re-designation of the site in the emerging Local Development Plan to an inappropriate Open Space Designation. The owner feels that Planning permission in Principle for Residential development would actually protect his investment in the Stadium for a longer period of time and give peace of mind that if the Stadium were to close another use could be found from the site".
Writing on the Monarchs Chatzone, 'Last_Lap' commented:
"We went to see the proposals and talked to the stadium owner. It was easy to see that for him, the possibility of being able to build houses 'at some time in the future' was important. However, it worried me greatly that he had obviously gone to a lot of expense to draw up the illustration boards showing the style of the houses, the plans for roads, paths, etc. and before he found out we were speedway fans, he was concentrating on 'selling' the idea of the housing development. With our promoters not commenting at all, it is very difficult to know how this situation could be fine for the Monarchs - but it may now be getting too late to object. "
There-in lies the Catch-22 for the Monarchs promotion. If they mount an opposition to the application then relations with the stadium owner could sour to such an extent that their lease would not be renewed. The flip-side is that the further through the planning process this application progresses, the harder it would become to block the demolition of the stadium if the owner decided to cash in on his investment.
The reassuring messages emanating from the Monarchs promotion earlier in the year suggest that they either accept the assurances that they have been given by the owner, or they simply don't feel they are in a position to "rock the boat" as they aren't able to commit to the kind of long-term lease the stadium owner suggests he would like to agree.
No matter how cordial the relations between the speedway and the stadium are, there must be a concern that selling the land for a sizeable sum of cash will prove more attractive than running a stadium in the medium term.
This article was first published on 14th August 2016
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