Council 'can’t afford' rugby league museum plan, says leader

Council chiefs in Kirklees say there was no attempt to mislead or deceive over negotiations to house the first National Rugby League Museum within Huddersfield’s iconic George Hotel.

By Tony Earnshaw, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Sunday, 23rd January 2022, 4:00 pm
Coun Shabir Pandor in June 2020 outside the George Hotel, which was announced would house the first National Rugby League Museum
Coun Shabir Pandor in June 2020 outside the George Hotel, which was announced would house the first National Rugby League Museum

And while accepting the upset and frustration that surrounds the impasse over the building, they appear to have closed the door on the notion of the museum being sited within the 19th century building.

Council Leader Shabir Pandor said cabinet committed to buy the building to preserve it and to bring it back into use as a hotel.

He said members had never agreed to include the museum within the building.

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

He said during the creation of a business case it became apparent that the project could cost £20m, as well as year-on-year interest and debt charges.

He said: “The key acid test for me is, is it value for money for the tax-payer? That’s the bottom line.”

Seeking clarity on the state of the museum proposal, Conservative group leader Coun David Hall asked whether it was “normal practice” to put forward a bid prior to the drawing up of a business case.

Coun Pandor said the bid had been approved “based on the envelope of the budget that we agreed [in 2021]” but that that budget “did not stack up”.

He said: “We didn’t have the full costings. We had the bid and a bid can be an expression of interest.

“There was no business case. The business case was developed further down the road.

“Now we do know what it costs. As far as this administration goes, it’s not money that we can afford to spend.”

He said the council was still working with the charity Rugby League Cares and that an alternative site was available within the “Cultural Heart” being designed as part of the so-called Huddersfield Blueprint.

Coun Pandor added that advice had been given that the museum project would “put a massive drain on resources” and “suck out the money from the regeneration programme” aimed at delivering the £250m Blueprint project.

At the same meeting, senior councillor Peter McBride said “in the light of experience” after taking over the George the council had realised that the scale of repair work needed was “far bigger” that originally presumed.

He said not reining back on plans in the light of that information would be “rather stupid” and that housing a museum within the hotel “did not work in the first place”.

He added: “There was no intent whatsoever of misleading anyone.”