Rugby charity ‘exploring all options’ on future museum site

RUGBY League officials say they are ‘exploring all options’ available to them after saying Kirklees Council bosses reneged on a contract to house a museum dedicated to the sport in the iconic George Hotel in Huddersfield.

That could mean leaving Huddersfield altogether and reopening the bidding process to include other towns that have already shown interest.

Sporting charity Rugby League Cares said the council must make a formal offer at an alternative site in Huddersfield and provide evidence in the form of a business plan which supports the council’s claim that putting the museum in the George Hotel would cost tens of millions.

The George Hotel was announced as the home of the new National Rugby League Museum in June 2020 when Kirklees Council revealed it had partnered with Rugby League Cares and the University of Huddersfield to deliver the project.

It came after the original plan – to put the museum in Bradford Town Hall, fell apart.

The National Rugby League Museum will no longer come to City Hall

The relationship with Kirklees Council has now soured, with the council saying the project could cost the taxpayer £20million.

He proposed placing the museum in the ‘cultural heartland’ planned under the so-called Huddersfield Blueprint, but did not identify a site.

This vagueness has led to anger, frustration, disappointment and confusion in Rugby League circles.

The charity’s chairman, Tim Adams, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): ‘We have not yet discussed a business plan within the partnership. If we had produced one and it suggested it wouldn’t be viable, we wouldn’t have continued anyway.

“But we haven’t even had any discussions or received a business plan from the board that proves that’s the case. This is the dilemma.

“There is no formal offer on an alternative site.

“We have asked the board if they would like to submit a bid to do so, but we will also pursue other options.”

The charity’s chief executive, Chris Rostron, added: ‘The council won our trust at the back of the George Hotel.

“In doing so, we have partnered with the authority to develop a sustainable international museum within the George.

“Disappointingly, the executive and council have not only thwarted this process, but have now totally reneged on any commitment they made.”

Mr Adams added: “Don’t be under any illusions: when we accepted their offer, there was a contract.”

This week, council leader Shabir Pandor said members of the decision-making cabinet never agreed to include the museum in the building.

He said the council’s offer to use the George “was just an offer [and] never a detailed offer in terms of what it would cost. It was an intention of intention.

He said when creating a business case that it became clear the project could cost £20m plus interest and year-on-year debt charges.

He added: “As far as this administration is concerned, it’s not money we can afford to spend.”

The charity says it has done ‘everything in its power’ to persuade the council not to back down, but the authority appears determined to do so.

And officials reiterated that the project was never going to be ‘a burden’ on the people of Kirklees or that they were ‘putting the begging bowl’ on expecting the council to find millions to secure it.

It’s been almost two years since council officials suggested that the George Hotel could house the National Rugby League Museum.

As of spring 2020, the charity had received five applications, two of which – from Wigan and Kirklees – were considered “exceptionally good”.

The LDRS has seen a folder of documents that includes the council’s formal offer.

In his letter accompanying Kirklees’ application, Clr Pandor said the authority was submitting a proposal “to establish a National Rugby League Museum here in Huddersfield in the very building where the sport was born.

“The George Hotel in Huddersfield is where it all began for Rugby League in 1895 and I can think of no better place to celebrate and commemorate the history of this great sport.”

His letter ended with: “We have something in Huddersfield that no other place in the world can offer. This is the true birthplace of the sport and we believe it is the right choice, at the right time, for Rugby League to come home.

Senior officers Karl Battersby, Naz Parkar and Rob Shipway made a joint presentation to an independent panel which focused on Huddersfield and the George Hotel as the ‘spiritual home’ of Rugby League.

Mr Battersby said at the time: ‘The linchpin of our offer is the George Hotel.’

Additionally, the hotel and ‘Station Gateway’ area around St George’s Square has been seen as a key part of the wider £250m Blueprint project.

Council’s purchase of the George for £1.8million won the museum for Kirklees and the triumph of the winning bid was announced with great fanfare.

After purchasing the George, the council offered the basement and ground floor to the museum as well as “space options” on the upper floors for offices and a cafe. Proceeds from the cafe would be used to fund the museum, which was envisioned as a free facility with no entrance fee.

The cost of the project has been estimated at between £2.5 and £3.5 million. A £5 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund was to cover the refurbishment.

In November 2020, the council revealed an ‘options assessment’ report from Leeds-based consultants Faithful + Gould which stated that refurbishing and retaining The George as a hotel or office space was ” commercially unviable.

It therefore supports the importance of hosting the museum in the building.

However, over the following months the relationship between the charity and the council changed.

In April 2021, the charity said it had offered to hire museum consultants at a cost of £30,000 to carry out a feasibility study which would speed up the creation of a business plan, and was left ” confused” when the council did not accept the offer.

In July 2021, the council asked if the charity would consider moving the museum to somewhere other than the George Hotel, the RLC filing reveals.

This led to the intervention of a senior Rugby League official who asked the council directly whether they were trying to “opt out” of the museum deal. The board said it was developing a business plan.

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