A MAJOR redevelopment of Headingley stadium - which will see two stands at the cricket and rugby ground knocked down and rebuilt - has been given the green light.
Members of Leeds City Council’s City Plans Panel unanimously approved the proposals, which will help guarantee that international and test cricket can continue to be hosted in Leeds.
The YEP understands work could now start on site as early as June this year, with completion expected early in 2019 in time for the Cricket World Cup.
However questions about how the huge project will be funded somewhat overshadowed today’s (Thursday) decision-making meeting at Leeds Civic Hall.
Previous estimates had suggested a price tag of £28.5mill, but that was partly dependent on the club selling off two pieces of land in Weetwood and Tingley for housing.
However planning applications linked to those plots were withdrawn by the club last year after opposition from residents.
The club has also applied to Leeds City Council for a £4million taxpayer funded grant to help finance the project, but cash from that is yet to be released.
Councillor Tom Ledley said the city had earlier been told that work had to start by September 2016 to ensure completion in time for the world cup.
“Now we are told it’s 2019,” he said.
Addressing representatives of Yorkshire County Cricket Club directly, he said: “How will you finance it?
“There must be a Plan B, or you would not be able to start in June 2017.”
Tim Hill, the council’s chief planning officer, reminded councillors that even though “there may very well be” questions over funding, the “key issues” for the panel to consider had to be planning issues like impact on residents and traffic.
The meeting was told that the redevelopment could ultimately help generate more than £11m of additional “visitor spend” across Yorkshire by 2020, and £5.75m in Leeds alone.
Further research estimated £20.5m of wider economic benefit to the region.
Yorkshire County Cricket Club and Leeds Rhinos both welcomed the decision today.
They said both clubs have “worked tirelessly together for over two years and are committed to continue to work together with the support of Leeds City Council to deliver this scheme which, once complete, will underpin Test Match Cricket at Headingley and upgrade the rugby side of the stadium”.
Leeds Rhinos Chief Executive Gary Hetherington said: “This was another crucial step for us. We believe a funding mechanism can be found to realise the vision for the stadium.”
Yorkshire County Cricket Club chief executive Mark Arthur added, “We remain confident that we can deliver the re-development for the stadium and look forward to working with partners to make this possible and retain our status in international cricket.”
Councillor James McKenna, chair of the City Plans Panel, said: “We want to see it up and running as soon a possible. The best of luck with finding the finance for it.”
Councillors had previously been told the redevelopment was critical to Headingley continuing to host test cricket beyond 2020 and for its chances of hosting matches as part of the Cricket World Cup in 2019.
The England and Wales Cricket Board has told Yorkshire County Cricket Club the joint north-south stand is “in need of significant upgrading” if it is to retain its status as a test match venue.
Despite the approval today, it is possible the decision could be further reviewed by Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid before work can begin.