Fresh battle lines have been drawn between supporters and opponents of Aberdeen FC’s new stadium dream following the signing of an important contract to allow work to begin.
Planning officers and Dons bosses have now signed the Section 75 (S75) agreement, which confirms the conditions attached to the £50million project between Westhill and Kingswells.
The No Kingsford Stadium (NKS) objectors group is now poised to launch a judicial review at the Court of Session – which could hold up the project for months – and have built up a war chest of more than £50,000 for the fight.
The group has 90 days to launch the challenge now the S75 has been agreed.
But city leaders urged them to reconsider in an effort to prevent repeats of the lengthy wrangles over the Aberdeen bypass and the Trump International Golf Links near Balmedie.
Russell Borthwick, chief executive of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, said: “Right now, there are people working hard to try to make Aberdeen the amazing, unique 21st century city region we can be proud to bequeath to future generations. Sadly, there are groups hell bent on sabotaging this progress. Complaining, protesting, slowing.
“We are operating in a highly competitive international space and if we continue to send out the message that Aberdeen is complacent, change averse, slow and not really open for business they will simply choose elsewhere.
“As we dither, other city regions in the UK are moving forward, making bold decisions, re-inventing themselves, replacing old industry sectors, embracing culture, building stuff, creating exciting modern city centres where people want to be; and talking themselves up into the bargain. Their citizens choose to get behind this, not descend into civil war over every application.”
The Dons want to replace the ageing Pittodrie and relocate, allowing for the development of new training facilities. The project was approved by Aberdeen City Council in January, despite neighbouring Aberdeenshire voting against it in an advisory capacity.
NKS was set up to fight the application, amid fears of congestion and noise. Ultimately, the group believes the city council has gone against their own policies of developing on green belt land.
That will form the legal basis of the judicial review – which looks at the council’s decision-making process.
Judicial reviews are often unsuccessful and costly, and the best result the objectors can hope for is that the Kingsford scheme is sent back to the council to scrutinise again.
But NKS believe that even holding up the development in the courts will bring new options to ultimately stop the stadium.
Writing exclusively for today’s P&J, director Diane Reid said: “NKS accept Aberdeen Football Club wish to have a new stadium, but this facility must be at one of the agreed sites in the local plan, a similar city centre location or a split between two designated sites like so many other clubs across the country.
“NKS is opposed to the principle of the development of the green belt site at Kingsford and will defend it through the courts, supported by some of the best legal counsel in Scotland and over 5,000 people from across the north-east.”
And last night, fellow director Heather Brock added: “We shall continue to take advice from our legal team and be guided by their professional opinion.”
But supporter Mike Forbes, of the Westhill for Kingsford group, insisted the opponents should look beyond delaying the project and get involved in ensuring it benefitted the community.
He said: “NKS has a duty to make sure that donors know there is no chance of their money being refunded and no likelihood of a legal challenge doing anything more than delaying the project.
“It would surely save everyone money, grief and hassle if the objectors admitted defeat and worked with the club and the local authorities to ensure the local community gets the best possible outcome in terms of community facilities and mitigation of any remaining concerns.”
In the meantime, Raymond Edgar, project director for Aberdeen FC, said they would be preparing to get to work, with the community sports facilities the first priority.
He said: “Now that we have consent, we will be letting contracts with a view to starting construction of phase one – the community sports hub and football training facilities – in the summer.
“We accept that there are still those in Westhill who object to our plans but there are many who support them or who have accepted the democratic decision and now want to be involved to get the best outcome for local residents.
“We’ll stress again that we want to be good neighbours and work with both local communities to deliver the best facilities we can that will benefit the community, the club and the wider region.”