Calls for Kirklees Council leader's resignation over rugby league museum 'fiasco'

The leader of Kirklees Council has been urged to resign “at the earliest opportunity” due to the fiasco surrounding the authority’s U-turn over a national rugby league museum in Huddersfield’s George Hotel.

Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 11:57 am
Updated Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 11:58 am
Coun Shabir Pandor

Liberal Democrats say the council’s reputation has suffered “irreparable harm” and that the leadership of Coun Shabir Pandor is “no longer tenable”.

In response Coun Pandor said not walking away from the hotel/museum deal could end up costing tax-payers more than £20m.

The open letter to Coun Pandor and council chief executive Jacqui Gedman follows three weeks of drama surrounding the purchase of the landmark building and the siting within it of the museum, which was announced with great fanfare 18 months ago.

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Huddersfield won the bid to host the first national rugby league museum in June 2020 following a close-fought battle with rivals Wigan.

At the time Coun Pandor said: “Huddersfield, the George Hotel, Rugby League… it’s basically hand in glove.

“This is a first step forward in terms of making sure that we bring this building back into the fabric and the space of Huddersfield.”

He also said: “This is where it all began for Rugby League and there is no better place to create a museum that celebrates and remembers the history of the game.”

But in recent weeks the council has said a combined hotel and museum within the Grade II-listed George Hotel – the birthplace of the sport in 1895 – was neither compatible nor financially viable.

Instead it has offered a space within the £210m “Cultural Heart” being proposed as part of the so-called Huddersfield Blueprint.

The U-turn on the agreement has been described as an “utter shambles”.

Now the Lib Dem group has said enough is enough – and that Clr Pandor should go.

Their letter in full says: “The Liberal Democrat Group in Kirklees have been following the developments around the George Hotel plans with increasing alarm.

“It is our view that irreparable harm has been done to the reputation of this council by the chaotic nature of the handling of the situation.

“The original plan to house a museum of Rugby League at the hotel was endorsed by you and the successful bid was publicly celebrated by you.

“The subsequent decision to change the location of that museum, contrary to the terms of that bid, also lies with you.

“The consequences of your actions are very serious.

“There will be long-lasting reputational damage to Huddersfield itself, there will be financial implications for Kirklees taxpayers and a loss of trust that impairs our organisation’s standing in the view of everyone from our residents to national organisations, if not government.

“We believe that as a result of the above your leadership is no longer tenable and that you should resign from your post as Council Leader at the earliest opportunity.

“The Liberal Democrat Group believes that confidence in Kirklees business dealings both with partners and the public cannot be restored until there has been a change in the leadership of council.”

Asked by the LDRS if he would resign, Coun Pandor responded: “This is the first time I’ve ever heard Clr Lawson show any interest in the rugby league museum.

“He certainly hasn’t spoken to me about his apparent concern.

“So you would be forgiven for thinking this was just another desperate attempt to jump on the nearest bandwagon rather than a serious point of principle.

“Unlike Coun Lawson, I have to make serious decisions about the council’s finances. I would question Clr Lawson’s own leadership if he really believes exposing taxpayers’ money in this irresponsible way is in the best interest of local residents.”

He added: “The joint hotel and museum concept would leave local taxpayers on the hook to the tune of around £20m plus interest payments.

“As a responsible administration, we can’t wish away those kinds of losses that would be paid by Kirklees taxpayers.

“We have made an alternative proposal to the rugby league authorities for the museum to be a key part of our major regeneration plans for Huddersfield.

“We think this is an opportunity that reflects the importance of the sport to our heritage while giving a good deal to Kirklees taxpayers.

“The offer remains on the table.”

The 1850s George Hotel was bought in March 2020 by Kirklees Council in a £1.8m deal. The full cost of refurbishment was previously estimated to be as much as £9.27m, according to West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), a group of leading councillors and officers from West Yorkshire councils, plus York, that works on major infrastructure projects.

Those figures indicated that taxpayers would contribute in excess of £11m on the restoration of the historic building.