Majestic indoor arena planned in Edinburgh


Majestic indoor arena planned in Edinburgh Image: NEC Group

An £40m indoor arena has been planned for Scotland’s capital – Edinburgh – which will be able to pack in 8,000 supporters. The UK-based entertainment, leisure and sports venue consultancy – Lothian Leisure Development – has collaborated with Birmingham-based NEC Group – to deliver the new, privately-funded facility to attract the who’s who of the entertainment world.

The Edinburgh International Arena will come up at Straiton – just outside Edinburgh City Centre. Plans are in the offing to build a mixed-use leisure and entertainment destination on the 30-acre site which will be buzzing with activity. Apart from the 8,000-capacity venue, a cinema, two hotels, conference, retail and leisure space will come up as part of the wider development matrix. The need for a venue was long felt in Edinburgh and once the arena comes to life, it will add to the cultural and entertainment glitz of Scotland’s capital and will provide impetus to the tourism sector and help generate more jobs.

Two indoor arenas in Birmingham are already being run by the NEC Group. Now, it is propping Lothian Leisure Development to bring up the new arena, taking care of aspects like overall management of the venue including event programing, hospitality, commercial rights, catering and ticketing subject to planning permissions. Planning permission will have to be submitted by the end of 2020.

Explains Dave Fowler, Business Development Director at Lothian Leisure Development, “These exciting proposals showcase the modern, indoor arena that Edinburgh deserves, and with operating partner NEC on board the capital is assured a pipeline of the world’s greatest entertainment talent. We also look forward to applying many of the other aspects of the hugely successful NEC campus to Edinburgh in due course. We see this as a revolution in entertainment provision for one of the world’s most cultural capitals – and one which will benefit all sections of the community.”

Phil Mead, Arenas and Ticket Factory Chairman at NEC Group, informed, “We host over 700 events per year in the Birmingham area and have always planned to take our successful events model to new cities with the backing of our majority shareholder, Blackstone. We are already looking forward to opening the redeveloped Bradford Live venue in 2021 and are delighted to now confirm our partnership with Lothian Leisure Development which will hopefully see us manage our first venue in Scotland. Edinburgh is well known for its wonderful cultural offering but remains one of the only European capital cities without an indoor arena and so we’re excited by the thought of being able to bring some big names in entertainment to the region.”

Event and concert promoters have given their nod to the proposals. Dave McGeachan from Scottish concert promoter, DF Concerts, observed, “These days it is rare that a capital city doesn’t have an arena, so this is a long awaited and positive addition to the Scottish entertainment market.”

Lothian Leisure Development is in talks with several groups to secure funding for the development phase of the project. Lothian Leisure Development and the NEC Group will be working in tandem to bring the proposals to full scheme design stage and a series of public consultations will also be held.

The site now zeroed in is close to, but not identical to, the site at one time identified as the possible location of a Scottish film studio. The film studio initiative came to a nought earlier this year due to a land tenancy dispute.

The Edinburgh International Arena is expected to go on stream by the end of 2023, beginning of 2024.

The plans have been given the thumbs up by Edinburgh-based music promoter Mark Mackie of Regular Music. Mackie, who also promotes the annual Castle Concert series at Edinburgh Castle, remarked, “A venue offering audience capacities between 5,000 to 8,000 will dovetail nicely with the existing facilities in Edinburgh and Glasgow. We eagerly await the opening when we look forward to presenting a varied range of artistes.”

The brain behind the whole development is Lothian Leisure Development Chairman, Edinburgh entrepreneur Tom Ponton. He puts in, “When I was young, back in the 50s, Edinburgh had the Waverley Market where they held the Ideal Home Exhibition, the Funfair event every Christmas and the Scottish Motor Show, we are now at 2019 and Edinburgh does not have such a facility in the city for such events. As the Chairman of a new Scottish company determined to deliver the best arena in Scotland and the only one not subsidized by the public purse.”

Joining Ponton on the board of Lothian Leisure Development is Nick Brown, formerly of international architects AHR Global and Dave Fowler, who has a wealth of experience in the music and entertainment industry working for the likes of Walt Disney, Sky, Universal and Ministry of Sound among others. Ponton was born and bred in the Royal Mile and served 23 years in local Government in the Capital.

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