Aberdeen FC’s ambitious £50million stadium plans have taken their largest step forward yet – the overwhelming backing of city councillors.
Members spent around five hours weighing up the pros and cons of the 20,000-seater facility at Kingsford yesterday at special townhouse meeting.
It ended with the plans for the 260,000sq ft site – to include several full-size training pitches and a pavilion for the AFC Community Trust – getting the green light by 32 votes to nine.
The decision was met with delight by club chairman Stewart Milne, who said he hoped construction could now begin as early as the summer.
But the group leading local opposition to the move accused councillors of failing to apply planning law and vowed to press ahead with a legal fight.
Three councillors abstained as their connections with the club presented a conflict of interest, while the Lord Provost Barney Crockett is only given a vote in a “tie-break” situation.
Last week city council planners released their recommendation that the facilities be approved, albeit with a total of 36 conditions which must be met by the club.
These include identifying safe places for pedestrians to cross the nearby roads, and the need for a controlled parking zone.
Both need permission from Aberdeenshire Council before work on the stadium itself can begin.
Following the meeting, club chairman Stewart Milne said he anticipated the necessary road and building warrants will be granted over the coming months, allowing for construction on the project’s first phase, of the training and community elements, to begin in the summer.
He also acknowledged the large number of objections from those in neighbouring Westhill and Kingswells – and insisted the club wanted to work with them.
Mr Milne said: “We applaud the councillors for taking this decision in the face of considerable objections.
“We are fully aware of and sympathetic to those in Westhill and Kingswells who have objected to our plans and I want to reassure them once more that we want to engage with them to deliver community facilities they can all enjoy and benefit from.”
Fan club Dons Supporters Together (DST) also welcomed the move.
A previous consultation organised by the group found that 75% of supporters backed the stadium plans – a similar split in opinion to the city councillors who voted yesterday.
Spokesman Gordon Duncan said: “This is an incredible opportunity for the club to create a special match day experience blending the modern and traditional.
“Should the club want the fans to show up in numbers, pay their money and support their team then this has to be a stadium for them.
“With this blank slate, AFC has a unique chance to create that.”
Last night the No Kingsford Stadium protest group announced it was pressing ahead with its plan for a judicial review into the application.
It released a statement claiming Aberdeen FC had “grossly over-estimated” the economic impact the Kingsford Stadium would have, and accused councillors and councillor officers of “failing” to apply planning law to the case.
Alexander Burnett, Scottish Conservative MSP for Aberdeenshire West, added: “We must respect the decision of councillors today.
“However, this vote will come as a significant blow for those who campaigned against the plans.
“The objectors felt they had, and still have, a strong case for this proposal to be rejected.
“While we await any decision by Scottish Ministers on whether the application will be called in, it does seem that there will be a separate legal challenge from local residents.”
The stadium plans had also been objected to by Aberdeenshire Council, which was a statutory consultee in the process due to its closeness to the site.
Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles, who fears traffic management issues will now arise at Kingsford, said last night: “I’m afraid that today’s decision will only serve to undermine the relationship between the two local authorities and the communities on either side of this debate.
“I am not satisfied that my initial doubts around traffic management and the impact on local residents have been addressed.
“People have the right to object to these plans and the club and Aberdeen City Council have a responsibility to listen to their concerns and work to mitigate them.”