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MORAG LINDSAY: Think big – look what it’s done for Eden Project Dundee and St Johnstone

St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson with the Betfred Cup
St Johnstone manager Callum Davidson with the Betfred Cup

It feels like we’ve been waiting a while for good news.

Job losses, shuttered venues and a looming recession have made for a gloomy backdrop to the more pressing toll of death and sickness as we slogged through the pandemic.

When the economy is pouring all of its energy into merely surviving, green shoots feel like a dream too far.

So yesterday’s announcement from the Eden Project detailing the leaps and bounds that have been made in its plans for a new outpost in Dundee landed like an exhilarating bolt from the blue.

It turns out that while the rest of us were getting on with getting by a memorandum of understanding has been signed with the owners of the former gasworks site at the city’s East Dock Street.

The first images of the proposed visitor attraction have been released, showing a gorgeous green lung in the old industrial heartland.

Bosses say the scheme will create 200 jobs – and another 300 indirectly – and will pump £27 million a year into the regional economy, doing for Tayside and Fife what the original Eden Project has done for Cornwall.

Dundee Eden Project Morecambe
An artist’s impression of the Eden Project Dundee.

The choice of site came as a surprise to us at The Courier at least.

When the project was first proposed Camperdown Park was touted as a possible location and lazily I’d assumed it was a no-brainer.

Instead we’re focusing on the docklands – about as far from the leafy environs of Camperdown as it’s possible to imagine. But the choice points to ambition on a far grander scale.

Ideal location

By transforming a long neglected industrial landscape – some might even say eyesore – organisers say they will breathe new life into a corner that was once an important part of the city’s working heritage.

This site is within walking distance of the city centre, less than a mile from V&A Dundee and the train station.

Its development would bring a world-class attraction to the eastern end of the Dundee Waterfront project, boosting the appeal to tourists – and leave the wide open green spaces that have made Camperdown a cherished playground for generations of Dundonians.

Camperdown Park.

There’s a host of activity going on at either end of the Waterfront. The urban beach is taking shape. There’s a 4,000-capacity esports arena planned for a site between Slessor Gardens and the Apex Hotel and pencilled in for completion by 2024.

It all adds to the picture of a city that is bold, outward looking and not content to rest on its laurels.

We realised Dundee was a city looking forwards, rather than backwards

There was a great quote from David Harland of the Eden Project in his interview with my colleague Steven Rae.

Explaining why his team had chosen the location for their Scottish expansion he recalled the optimism he and his colleagues encountered in their first meetings with people here.

“We realised Dundee was a city looking forwards, rather than backwards,” he said.

What a brilliant impression to give to the rest of the world.

The gasworks site.

Granted the regeneration of the gasworks will take considerably more effort and expense than sprucing up a quiet corner of Camperdown.

There’s the environmental challenge of clearing a site that has been at the centre of contamination concerns in the past.

Nearby residents are also raising red flags about the proximity to a busy road and the prospect of noise and disturbance.

Good omens

Those issues will have to be addressed in the fullness of time.

But Dundee didn’t get where it was today by taking the easy options.

From its origins as a port city to the jute mills and factories and the burgeoning creative industries of the 21st century, its success has always been built on the industry and imagination of its citizens and that can only bode well for this project.

Before they take my Perth passport off me at the Friarton Bridge, a word on St Johnstone.

I remember my season ticket-holding dad bemoaning their poor form in the first half of the season and me reassuring him they were just keeping it interesting for the end.

I had no idea what I was talking about but, just as a broken clock tells the right time twice a day, a clueless numpty will sometimes strike gold if they spout enough nonsense.

And now here they are, heading into their second cup final of the season at Hampden today.

If the sporting gods have any sense of occasion, they’ll be bringing the Scottish Cup back to McDiarmid Park as a companion piece to the Betfred Cup they picked up earlier this year.

Only three clubs – the far bigger and better funded Rangers, Celtic and Aberdeen – have achieved the double before.

Hampden deserted for the Betfred Cup final

For it to happen in a season when supporters were unable to attend any of the games means today is a bittersweet moment.

But the sight of the town bedecked in blue and white – right down to the giant scarf around the neck of the grouse statue on the Broxden roundabout – shows how much local people have been cheered by the success and how many of them will be there in spirit today.

The Broxden grouse showing his colours.

The pictures of Rangers fans rioting in Glasgow’s George Square following their club’s title win on Saturday showed us the ugly side of the beautiful game.

A fairytale ending for St Johnstone would be just the thing to redeem its reputation.

 

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