How can Leeds taxpayers afford to give £4million to Headingley cricket stadium? Councillor questions grant to boost redevelopment plans

Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com - 20/07/2016 - Cricket - NatWest T20 Blast - Yorkshire Vikings v Durham Jets - Headingley Cricket Ground, Leeds, England - A general view of Yorkshire's Headingley stadium as Yorkshire take on Durham in the Natwest T20.
Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com - 20/07/2016 - Cricket - NatWest T20 Blast - Yorkshire Vikings v Durham Jets - Headingley Cricket Ground, Leeds, England - A general view of Yorkshire's Headingley stadium as Yorkshire take on Durham in the Natwest T20.
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Senior Leeds councillors have approved a £4m taxpayer-funded grant to Headingley stadium towards a major redevelopment which will help keep international Test cricket in the city.

The authority’s executive board earlier today (Wednesday) approved a request by Yorkshire County Cricket Club for council support for its £28.5million proposed redevelopment of the North-South Stand at Headingley.

The redevelopment is needed to improve facilities at the ground to ensure it can host four matches in the 2019 Cricket World Cup and also for it to be considered to continue hosting international matches from 2020 and beyond.

However there was concern at today’s meeting at Leeds Civic Hall from opposition party councillors about the amount of money - with questions raised about the council’s funding priorities in times of its much documented financial shortfalls.

The concerns come after the YEP reported last week that funding pressures could force the council to cut up to 2,000 jobs in the next four years.

Councillor Stewart Golton, leader of the Lib Dem group, said: “I appreciate cricket brings a pleasure to a lot of people.

“But £4m is a lot of money.

“And I seem to recall the council is usually very good at people asking for a significantly robust business case.

“For instance, when my community wanted to build a social enterprise to provide adult residential care which would have cost about £4m, they were turned down because the council didn’t feel their business case added up.

“So when we turn around and offer somebody £4m, a very substantial gift, it has to be done properly. I’m not comfortable with this.”

He acknowledged it was “nice for the city to have Test cricket and it would be a shame if it was lost”.

But he added: “I am not sure it’s our job to guarantee that happens - a sustainable business should be able to sustain alone.”

Councillor Richard Lewis, executive board member for regeneration and planning, said that there would “clearly be a huge impact to the city and the region if we were to be in a position where Test cricket left Leeds”.

“It has been home to Test cricket for nearly 120 years and it is important not just economically, but to our culture,” he said.

The executive board was also quizzed today about what guarantees and corporate benefits - such as free passes for youngsters from troubled backgrounds or those in social care- the council might get in return for what was a “very substantial gift”.

Leader of the council Judith Blake said: “Yorkshire cricket do an incredible amount of work for communities across the city and beyond. And their aim is to enhance that going forward [through the club’s cricket foundation].”

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