Yorkshire fear bleak future if stadium is delayed

Headingley stadium.
Headingley stadium.
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YORKSHIRE are warning that delays to a £38m redevelopment of Headingley stadium could see them lose international cricket and even threaten their existence.

The club – circa £24m in debt – have expressed “deep concerns” over delays to the project, which they say is “essential for both the staging of international fixtures beyond 2019 and the financial sustainability of the club”.

Yorkshire must give what chief executive Mark Arthur describes as “categoric assurances” to the England and Wales Cricket Board by next summer that they will have a new main stand in place come 2019 in a jointly-funded venture with Leeds Rhinos rugby club, their Headingley neighbours.

Otherwise, he said that Yorkshire could miss out on the next allocation of international games for the period from 2020 to 2024, as well as lose four matches already awarded to them for the 2019 World Cup that are contingent on the new stand having been built.

Arthur warned that the existing dual-sided stand, which dates back to 1932 and serves both the adjoining cricket and rugby grounds, would be perceived as unfit for purpose in the face of increasing competition to stage international games.

In addition, he said that while Yorkshire remain “financially viable until 2019 because we’ve got an Ashes Test that year”, their current allocation of international fixtures only “keeps us on a knife-edge”, adding that “you don’t have to read between too many lines to see where it would send the club” if international cricket was taken away.

Arthur estimates it would take “about 15 months” to build the new £30m stand, which would raise the cricket ground’s capacity by almost 3,000 to 18,350, and that work would probably have to start by next September for Yorkshire to hit their target.

He spoke of what he termed “the domino effect” on the cricket club after Leeds Rhinos yesterday issued a statement in which they admitted that the first part of the Headingley redevelopment scheme, a new £8m South Stand for the rugby ground, had been put on hold due to “complex planning matters”.

These relate to the proposed sale of two greenbelt sites owned by the Rhinos in Leeds to housing developers that are required to help raise funds for the overall project.

The sites, in Weetwood and Tingley, have run into local opposition, with more than 1,000 residents having written to Leeds City Council in protest, while planning permission for the overall Headingley redevelopment has yet to be granted.

Catherine Shuttleworth, from the Save Tetley Field group battling to preserve the greenbelt sites in question, believes that the Headingley redevelopment is “a flawed proposal and will not pass scrutiny”, adding that the “urban green corridor is as unique to Leeds as Test cricket is to Headingley”.

Leeds Rhinos say they “remain hopeful that the scheme will go ahead as planned in the near future”, with chief executive Gary Hetherington apologising to fans and insisting that his club – who also fear the loss of key international matches – will continue to work with Yorkshire and Leeds City Council.

Arthur said he felt “sorry” for the Rhinos “as they have been working on this for five years”, and he attributed the problems to “red-tape and circumstances”.

Arthur said no one was at fault, insisting that “it’s one of those rare occasions when you can’t actually apportion any blame”.

Yorkshire have faced an ongoing battle to retain international cricket at Headingley, a battle saved in the short-term by their purchase of the cricket ground in 2005.

That secured them a staging agreement with the ECB to host matches until 2019, after which they go back into the pot with their fellow counties, several of whom have subsequently developed superior facilities.

“We’re very concerned, and it’s not really in our hands because both the rugby and the cricket club need the financial wherewithal to come up with £38m,” said Arthur.

“We can only raise the money on the back of a robust business plan and are beholden to decisions made by other people.

“It would have a knock-on effect on Leeds Rhinos too, because obviously we share an awful lot of the overhead, and we are effectively joined at the hip with them and we’ve got an outstanding relationship with them.

“We’re all in this together, and Leeds City Council are in it too because the last thing they want is to lose international cricket.”

Arthur also fears the potential impact on the local community.

“Not only does this delay impact the club’s ability to stage internationals, it would also have profound consequences to both Yorkshire’s and Leeds Rhinos’ valuable and long-standing work within the wider community,” he said.

Demolition of the stand between Leeds Rhinos rugby ground and Yorkshire County Cricket Club HQ at Headingey. PIC: James Hardisty

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