In full: Kingsford Stadium pre-determination hearing

The latest hearing into controversial plans for a  new Dons stadium took place today.

A previous pre-determination hearing for the Kingsford development was held in September last year, however, a final decision was pushed back at the request of the football club.

Today’s meeting is a chance for councillors to hear from both sides of the divisive debate, as well as question key figures about the plans.

If the plans are approved the £50m development would include community and sports facilities, a football academy with outdoor pitches, pavilion and a 20,000-seat capacity stadium with associated roads, parking and landscaping.

Dons boss Derek McInnes was due to make a statement about the plans and chairman Stewart Milne was also in attendance to answer questions.

Ian Cox, of Kingswells Community Council, and John Hunter of Westhill and Elrick Community Council, were also due to speak.

Other groups at the hearing included No To Kingsford, which argues the location is inappropriate and wants Aberdeen City Council to throw out the plans.

They have also threatened to launch a legal challenge if the stadium gets the go-ahead.

13:00: That concludes the meeting. A final decision is due to be made at a full council meeting at the Town House at 10.30am on January 29.

12.58: The final speaker, Nicola Seal, is arguing the economic benefit of the stadium project has been overstated. She has accused the club of making the “audacious argument” that green belt land is cheaper than other land.

She said: “Of course it’s cheaper – because you’re not supposed to build on it. Is there one rule for Aberdeen FC and another for everyone else?”

Ms Seal said more people had objected to this application than any other planning application in the city’s history and encouraged councilllors to reject the proposal. Her preference is for the stadium to built closer to the city centre.

12.52: John Gerrie is our penultimate speaker – unless a previous speaker who has not turned up makes an appearance.

Mr Gerrie has expressed concern that, if the stadium was built, more buildings the size of “aircraft hangars” could be built on the land at a later date. There are no proposals for that to happen.

He added that there is no infrastructure in place around the site to accommodate 20,000 spectators.

12.47: The next speaker is James Yule, who said his back garden overlooks the site.

He said: “The club makes a big deal about co-locating the training facilities and the stadium and it is this issue that blinds them when trying to find a site.
“The day out experience of a trip to the country at Kingsford may not match the current experience at Pittodrie.”

Mr Yule said there are already existing traffic and parking problems in the area and a stadium would make it worse.

12.38: Westhill resident Heather Cook said she values sport in the area and was originally against the stadium proposal, and is still against it having considered the new documents.

She said: “When I think of the city of Aberdeen I consider Kings Links to be the ideal location (for a new stadium).
“Anyone wishing to come out from Aberdeen to Westhill by public transport would take 1 hour and 20 minutes to come by bus.
“I certainly would not travel 2 hours and 40 minutes to attend a dance and fitness class (at the stadium).”

12.27: John Thornton, a Westhill resident of more than 30 years, is the next speaker. He is giving a PowerPoint presentation to the hearing arguing a footbridge at the stadium would not be big enough to accommodate pedestrian traffic.

One of the slides on Mr Thornton’s presentation shows the Beatles’ famous Abbey Road cover, where the Fab Four stride across the road.

Mr Thornton is arguing that Aberdeen FC’s assessment that the footbridge is wrong as it, he claims, assumes pedestrians will walk as though they are crossing a road, as opposed to climbing steps.

12.24: Diane Reid is a director of No Kingsford Stadium but is addressing the hearing in a private capacity. She displayed a table showing the size of stadium footprints of other football clubs – including Bristol City and Chelsea – and argued they are smaller than the Kingsford proposal, which she said is too big.
She urged members “‘not to be swayed by emotion” and to instead favour planning rules when making decisions.

12.16: We have eight speakers to go. The next speaker is Graham Wildgoose.
He said the reports that had been done into the viability of the project made it very easy for councillors to reject permission for the project.

Mr Wildgoose rejected the assertion of Russell Borthwick from Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce that rejecting permission would indicate Aberdeen was not open for business and become a backwater by listening scores of other major building projects in the city, including the ACC arena and the AWPR.

12.04: John Mann, a resident, is against the application.

He told the hearing he has lived in the area for four decades.

He said: “Aberdeen FC use co-location (of the training ground and stadium to justify the size of the site. They have been unable to make a compelling case for co-location.

“The fan zone would be a major nuisance and no noise assessment has been done.”

Mr Mann said: “It may be that the club wishes to co-locate but it doesn’t mean they have to do that.”

When asked what he thinks the alternative is, Mr Mann said: “In that time (over the last 17 years, the club has had many opportunities to build a stadium. They have not shown flexibility in gaining that.”

12.01: Diane Priestley, of Westhill and Elrick Community Council, argued that, when St Johnstone FC did an assessment of how people would get to their stadium, the plan turned out to be inaccurate and she fears the same would happen at Kingsford.

She argued that the club’s assumption that three supporters would travel in each car to matches was wrong.

11.49: Heather Brock, of No Kingsford Stadium Ltd, is playing a video to the hearing, making the case that the stadium would not be suitable for the site.

Ms Brock argued that the application contravened Aberdeen City Council’s planning policy and encouraged councillors to vote against it.

The next speaker is Diane Priestley, of Westhill and Elrick Community Council.​

11.41: Mark Kummerer, founder of MKA Economics, which specialises in providing economic impact assessments of building projects, said: “In December 2017, at the request of No to Kingsford Stadium Ltd, we were asked to do an assessment of the project’s economic impact.

“The likelihood of losing half of the current crowd numbers (if the club stay at Pittodrie) is unrealistic and pessimistic.

“The proposed relocation would have an adverse impact on the city centre on matchdays.​

“The economic case is open to challenge.”

He added that businesses in the city centre would lose up to £2 million a year if the Dons move to Kingsford.

He added that the club’s economic impact assesses the benefits of the stadium based on the assumption that the stadium will be able to host seven additional events every year, including European matches, music concerts and other events.

He said this is the most optimistic scenario and added that he would have expected the assessment to consider the possibility of fewer annual events taking place.

11.36: Keith Sinclair, representing Mike Forbes, of Westhill and Kingswells for Kingsford, said: “The additional information supplied by the club makes it clear that Kingsford is the most viable location (for the new stadium).

“The community facilities at Kingsford could provide (sporting groups) with facilities.

“The perception that there will be limited community facilities or that they will only be footballing facilities, could not be further from the truth.​

“There are significant numbers in favour of the stadium in Kingsford and Westhill.

“These people should not be denied the opportunities and the benefits the stadium and community sports hub would present.”

11.23: Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce chief executive Russell Borthwick said that he was recently talking to someone in Leeds who had interest in investing in Aberdeen.

He added that it would create a bad impression to potential investors if the stadium project did not go ahead.

​Mr Borthwick said: “We’re supportive of Aberdeen’s ambition to be one of the top 100 teams in Europe.

“Staying at Pittodrie will make that impossible.

“I am a fan of the club but that’s not why I’m here. I’m a massive fan of the region.

“Would a city really choose to reject £50 million of private investment?

“To say no will create confusion, slow the momentum we have and simply reinforce the view of our potential investor in Leeds that Aberdeen is not open for business.”

11.15: Councillor Douglas Lumsden asked Mr Clarkson: “Do you not have any concerns at all that (city-centre bars) may cease to become a meeting place (for supporters)? They might just move to somewhere closer to Kingsford?”

Mr Clarkson said: “I firmly believe that people making a day of it, they will head back into the city centre.”

11.11: Paul Clarkson, of PB Development Company, which runs bars and restaurants in the city, said: “We firmly believe that moving the stadium out of the city, will not have an adverse affect on the city-centre bar trade.

“Several bars will be introducing shuttle buses from the city to the stadium.

“(There will be) a maximum of 25 home games of year where there will be extra traffic.”

Mr Clarkson added that Aberdeen risked becoming “a laughing stock” if the application is rejected.

11.04: Ferdinand Von Prondzynski, the Principal and Vice-Chancellor of The Robert Gordon University​, made reference to Manchester City’s stadium, where the training ground and stadium, are on the same site.

He said: “The benefit of the colocation has been a significant saving and a better application of sports science and a much greater commercial opportunity, both for the club itself, and those who benefit from the club’s presence.

“It is entirely desirable that this application should proceed.”

He added: “If the club succeeds, I can bring in more students.

“Part of the (club) is about generating local pride.​”

10.48: Westhill and Elrick Community Council chairman John Hunter said the application site is too big and could be smaller.

When asked whether Aberdeen FC chairman Stewart Milne would spend money on a site that was too big, Mr Hunter said: “I’m not a representative of Mr Milne. It’s not for me to say how he should spend his money.”

He added: “I’m all for people being active and doing sport and, as a community council, we support the Westfield Sports Hub, but this development is not a community thing. It’s a football club development.”

10.18: Kingswells Community Council (KCC) secretary Ian Cox said: “There is nothing contained in the new information to change our original view.

“There is one issue that cannot be mitigated – the inappropriate use of greenbelt land.

“As matches are fortnightly, there will be very few full-time jobs created.

“This does not take account of the impact the stadium will have on the local community, including the loss of amenity during match times when car parks will be full, impacting on local businesses.

“The site is served by only one main road and the use of alternative routes is limited.

“KCC is not convinced the economic benefits outweigh the loss of greenbelt, the visual impact and the implications the development will have on the local area.”

10.13: Pre-recorded message from Derek McInnes: “It is important to me that the players give something back to the community in return for the tremendous support we receive every week.

“At Kingsford, we will be able to provide an environment that provides much more than sporting excellence.

“I believe the team and the club still have so much to achieve – to give to the city.

“I have bene pressing for beter facilities for my players and the fans since my first day in the job.

“Some things are too important to give up on.

“We always try to represent and serve the community to the best of our abilities. We want to make the city proud every time for play.​”

10:05: Elaine Farquharson-Black, partner at Burness Paull, representing Aberdeen FC, said: “It has been shown that the proposed bridge 4,320 pedestrians in a 30-minute period – that is 1,000 more than would use it in that period.

“The club has ursued both combined and split sights without success in an effort to provide top-class facilities (over the last 17 years).

“It has been demonstrated there are no suitable alternative sites, hence the need to build on a greenbelt at Kingsford.

“Objectors make a number of claims – none of which stand up to scrutiny.

“Co-location (of the training ground and stadium) not only benefits the team, but not only the great work that the Community Trust does, and the public.​

“It has been shown that the proposed bridge 4,320 pedestrians in a 30-minute period – that is 1,000 more than would use it in that period.

“The club has ursued both combined and split sights without success in an effort to provide top-class facilities (over the last 17 years).

“It has been demonstrated there are no suitable alternative sites, hence the need to build on a greenbelt at Kingsford.”

“Objectors make a number of claims – none of which stand up to scrutiny.

“Co-location (of the training ground and stadium) not only benefits the team, but not only the great work that the Community Trust does, and the public.​”

9.59: The council’s roads officer, Mark Wilkie, said that since the previous pre-determination hearing the applicant had done work to justify the suitability of a footbridge to demonstrate that it would be able to accommodate people leaving the stadium after matches.

He added: “The matter investigated is not an exact science, however, we consider enough evidence has been gathered to justify a 3m-wide crossing (on the footbridge).

“Roads could support this development proposal, providing appropriate conditions are attached to any consent provided.”

9.48: Gavin Evans, the council’s planning team case officer, told the hearing the new stadium on the outskirts of Westhill could boost the city’s economy by £8.5 million a year, but that its benefit would be determined by attendance, which is unpredictable, so assumptions have been made when estimating that benefit.

“The proposal would result in the loss of green belt land and would have a negative impact on the city centre in terms of the mix of uses and lost revenue,” he added.

9.37: During opening remarks, the hearing’s convener Councillor Marie Boulton, said: “We are here to listen to the views on this additional information provided by the applicant.

“The report before members today does not provide members with an assessment of the merits or failings of this proposal.

“To be clear, there will be no decision taken today.”