Charity looking for a new location for proposed national Rugby League Museum

Council bosses in Kirklees say they are continuing to talk to a sports charity about the prospect of a national Rugby League Museum in Huddersfield despite concerns that they have “given up the ghost” on the project.

By Tony Earnshaw, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Sunday, 31st July 2022, 6:00 am

But as the authority steams ahead with plans to enlarge the town’s iconic George Hotel – the birthplace of rugby league in 1895 – and to make it a viable prospect for the hotel sector, it has admitted that charity Rugby League Cares is looking to locate the museum elsewhere.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) understands that Wigan, which lost out to Huddersfield in a close-fought bidding battle two years ago, could yet be the winner. Leeds has also expressed an interest.

The charity opted to go with Huddersfield’s bid when the council said it would buy the George Hotel for £1.8m and house the museum within it. The council later U-turned, saying the museum wasn’t compatible with a working hotel business.

Huddersfield’s iconic George Hotel, built in the 1850s and which in 1895 was the birthplace of rugby league

The LDRS understands that the council could be on the verge of revealing a deal with a hotel operator over the George, which would secure its future. However the fate of the much-trumpeted National Rugby League Museum remains in limbo.

At a meeting of the council’s decision-making cabinet, Coun John Taylor (Con, Kirkburton) asked: “So we know what we’re doing with the George Hotel now. What happened with the rugby museum? Are we still negotiating with Rugby League Cares or have we kind of given up the ghost on that?”

Coun Graham Turner, the council’s cabinet member for regeneration, said the authority had “an open dialogue” with the charity and added: “My understanding is that they are looking at the options they have. We’re waiting for them to respond. You wouldn’t expect them to respond until they examine their options.

“No doubt once they’ve examined their options – or gathered their thoughts – they will be back in touch with us. As I say, I understand they have other thoughts at the moment.”

Coun Turner previously revealed that the council has had “significant interest” from the hotel sector including what he described as “leading national and international brands”. He said he expects to announce the choice of operating partner “later in the summer”.

He added: “Once it became clear we could not house the Rugby League Museum in the George we started a dialogue with Rugby League Cares on the impact this would have.

“Earlier this year we made an open offer to rugby league authorities to be part of the transformation of Huddersfield town centre.

“They have not responded to our offer, and we are now at the point when we need to press on with these vital projects that will deliver major improvements for the town.”

That was rejected by one insider close to the project, who said negotiations dried up months ago and there has been “no serious discussion” or contact with the council.

They commented: “Rugby League Cares aren’t interested in another site in the town centre. It’s the George, for obvious reasons.

“Currently if there is going to be a national Rugby League Museum it’s not going to be in Huddersfield unless Kirklees Council changes its mind about the George Hotel very rapidly.

“Kirklees has brought nothing positive to the table. There’s been no practical alternative to the George Hotel, and no acknowledgement that not having it there would be such a blow – and how they compensate for that.

“The council are trying to navigate their way out of it by placing the blame on Rugby League Cares for not responding.

“But there’s been no concrete offer, which sums up the attitude.

"The direction of travel seems to be towards Wigan. The council is missing out on a historic opportunity in British sport as well as the heritage of the region.”

At a briefing last month for the £210m “cultural heart”, which is set to regenerate the area around Huddersfield’s piazza shopping area, David Shepherd, the strategic director for growth and regeneration for Kirklees Council who is leading the project, could not point to where the rugby museum might be located on a 3D model.

He said the council “did not want to be prescriptive” and said it was up to Rugby League Cares to engage with the authority “on the space that could be available” within the cultural heart.

The leader of the Liberal Democrats on Kirklees Council, Coun John Lawson (Cleckheaton), witnessed this week’s exchange in cabinet. He offered his thoughts on the situation.

“It’s a fact now that, barring another U-turn, the Rugby League Museum will not be at the George Hotel. That is still extremely upsetting for those who felt rugby league was coming home.

“What makes matters worse is that after a long period in limbo, Rugby League Cares still faces an extremely vague offer from council that constructively blocks their capacity to make decisions.

“I can only think Wigan will be still waiting in the wings but it would be a great loss to Yorkshire fans if Rugby League Cares were forced to go over the Pennines.

“That sting would be felt very keenly here, especially after that great pride we all felt when the successful bid was first announced by [Council Leader] Coun Pandor.”

Rugby League Cares was approached to comment.