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Last Updated: Friday, 25 May 2007, 17:39 GMT 18:39 UK
30m climbing centre's rocky road
Jonathan Lessware
BBC Scotland news website

It began as a dream to provide Scotland with a national climbing centre that would be one of the best in the world.

EICA: Ratho
The centre is the world's biggest indoor climbing wall

What emerged was a vast, bold, feat of engineering which saw a disused quarry on the outskirts of Edinburgh converted into a state-of-the-art sporting facility.

But seven years later and millions of pounds over budget the future of what was then known as the Ratho Adventure Centre was hanging by a very fine thread.

With much of the interior unfinished, contractors unpaid and a leaking roof, the centre went into administration.

Now, thanks to a City of Edinburgh Council buy-out and a 6m overhaul the centre has finally reopened in full.

For those in the climbing world, the hope is that the latest chapter in the story of the troubled centre will spark a change in its fortunes.

The centre was the brainchild of Edinburgh climbers Rab Anderson, Duncan McCallum and architect David Taylor, who formed the Ratho Quarry Company.

When the plans were unveiled in late 2001 the estimated cost was 7m with 1.5m coming from a SportScotland lottery fund grant.

Increasing popularity

It aimed to attract 260,000 visitors a year through its doors.

The Mountaineering Council of Scotland hoped the centre would cater for the rapidly increasing popularity of indoor climbing while helping train people for the more dangerous traditional climbing on the country's cliffs and mountains.

It finally opened in September 2003 and few visitors would have failed to be impressed with the five-storey structure overlooking the vast National Rock Climbing Centre.

Along with the 2,500sqm of artificial climbing wall, the centre boasted an aerial assault course, an adventure sports gym and health club, accommodation, film auditorium, conference facilities and a bar and a restaurant.

It also provided a judo training centre and outdoor sports shop.

EICA: Ratho
The centre has had problems with its modern roof

But its construction had been plagued by rising costs and problems with high winds damaging the modern fabric roof.

The owners rushed to open the centre in time for a major international climbing competition.

But in March 2004 it fell into administration.

After the council came to the rescue in the summer of 2005 the full extent of the problems came to light.

It soon became apparent that Ratho would be shut for months rather than weeks.

A progress report from the council described "a poor standard of workmanship" and "an absence of original drawings" from the original construction process.

A huge overhaul, including repairing the leaking roof, improving drainage, upgrading the car park and replacing the electrics and plumbing swung into place.

It was an incredible vision that didn't want to compromise on quality and aspirations
Graeme Gardiner
EICA: Ratho manager

The unfinished scuba diving tank was converted to a bouldering wall, a previous lodge was changed into a children's play area and a new spa facility was built, while the conference areas were completely refurbished.

Graeme Gardiner, the manager of the rebranded Edinburgh International Climbing Arena: Ratho, said he believed the centre now had a promising future and a new approach would make it economically sustainable.

He told BBC Scotland: "It was an incredible vision that didn't want to compromise on quality and aspirations.

"It was just unfortunate that they ran out of money at a crucial time in order to complete the project.

"We will seek to address the balance between a conference centre and a sporting facility of excellence.

"In the past it was very much aimed at experienced climbers but now we are giving the opportunity to everyone to climb."

Despite the rebranding and improved marketing Mr Gardiner said the centre still faced challenges.

EICA: Ratho
Workers building the main wall at Ratho

He said it suffered from inadequate signing and there is no public transport directly to the site.

"The signage process is a slow process. We have to go through VisitScotland to change the signs to EICA: Ratho," Mr Gardiner said.

"We are very much hopeful that the new car park and bus shelter we have introduced will encourage Lothian Buses to come back."

The centre's roof is also set to continue to cause problems with more sections requiring replacement over the next five years.

Some Edinburgh councillors raised concerns about the level of public money still being plunged into the centre.

Tory group leader Councillor Iain Whyte said: "Our issue with it has always been that we see it as a fundamentally quite risky business venture.

"Now the council has spent the money I wish it well and hope it will be a success."

Best performers

Kevin Howett, Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCS) sports development officer, said that while Ratho has been shut, Scotland's young climbers have suffered due to the lack of training on offer.

"When it was opened, for over a year-and-a-half, our climbers were doing exceptionally well at British level," he said.

"But in the last year it has dropped off. It made us realise that in the central area of Scotland, Ratho was central in bringing on our best performers."


SEE ALSO
Climb centre reopens after refit
24 May 07 |  Edinburgh and East
Centre climbs out of money woes
09 Sep 05 |  Scotland
Lifeline for adventure complex
10 Aug 04 |  Scotland
Receivers take over sports centre
06 Mar 04 |  Scotland
Adventure sports climbing high
05 Jul 03 |  Scotland

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