YORKSHIRE are to create a 20-year development plan for Headingley cricket ground.
Chief executive Mark Arthur said the club are to explore ways of improving the famous Leeds venue to help safeguard its future as an international stadium.
Arthur has already warned that international cricket could be lost to Headingley once Yorkshire’s staging agreement with the England and Wales Cricket Board expires in 2019 unless they can get more people to come through the gate.
Only 36,000 watched this year’s New Zealand Test at Leeds – some 20,000 short of the figure Arthur says Yorkshire need to sustain international cricket – and a key part of his strategy is to create a long-term vision for Headingley going forward.
“We’re about to commence on a 20-year development plan for Headingley,” he said.
“We’re basically looking at our ultimate vision for Headingley, then we will come backwards and see what we can afford at any given time.
“At the moment, we have no money to do anything with regard to the fabric of the ground, but we do know that we are lagging behind with regards to facilities compared to Old Trafford, Trent Bridge and Edgbaston, the three main traditional Test match grounds that are closest to us.
“We know that we are lagging behind them and, therefore, we have to know our direction of travel in the future.”
Top of Arthur’s priority list is to press ahead with existing plans to install permanent floodlights, soon to become a pre-requisite for staging international games.
Beyond that, there are also ongoing plans to redevelop the Rugby Stand, although no timescale has been determined.
“We have to introduce floodlights sooner rather than later, especially with the International Cricket Council now saying that floodlights are soon to become mandatory for international venues, so that’s the top priority,” added Arthur.
“We will do that as soon as we can possibly get it delivered; we are looking for a partner to help us deliver that right now, and that is part of our winter work.
“Secondly, we have one of the smallest capacities for international cricket; Hampshire is 25,000, Lancashire 25,000, Edgbaston 25,000, with ourselves and Notts down at 17,000, so we have to show the ECB that we have a development plan as and when we can afford it, which will obviously include the football stand end which we would develop in conjunction with Leeds Rugby because we want to get our capacity up to 22,000.
“But it’s going to take months to develop this plan, and what we are aiming for is probably not going to become a public document; we’re basically conducting an ongoing study to see where we want Headingley to be in 20 years’ time.”
With Yorkshire circa £20m in debt, Arthur said the club’s vision would only be realised on an as-and-when basis.
He is promising a common sense approach to any redevelopment.
“It would be ridiculous if I turned round, when we’re carrying in excess of £20m debt, and said, ‘Oh, we’re going to build this or we’re going to do that’, because people would say, ‘where’s the money going to come from?’” he added.
“What I’m saying is that, when we have the money, however we find the money, however we make the money with better trading, we have to understand which projects, which part of the ground we’re going to develop first, and what the outcomes of that development would bring to Yorkshire cricket club and Headingley as a cricketing place of destination.
“Part of the reason for having a development plan is that there are little bits and pieces you can do from time to time, so if we haven’t got so many millions to do our part of the Football Stand, and the rugby club haven’t got their bit, but we do have a little bit of cash, then we might be able to do something else as part of the strategic plan, rather than say, ‘Oh, we’ve got a bit of money, where shall we spend it?’
“Basically, we have to understand where Headingley needs to be in 20 years’ time.”
The bottom line is that Yorkshire need more people to support international cricket at Leeds.
The club are expected to announce a significant loss on the back of this year’s Test and are effectively targeting a 50 per cent increase through the turnstiles.
“Our staging agreement finishes in 2019; unless we get more people down here on a regular basis for international cricket, we won’t be one of those international venues in the future,” reiterated Arthur.
“We recognise we’ve got issues here with poor attendance, particularly at the Test match this year, and in order to retain Test match status in the future we’re going to have to get more people to come and watch international cricket.
“We had 36,000 turn up to the Test match this year and we’re targeting as an absolute minimum 55,000 next year.
“We have to prove to the ECB that we are worthy of staging international cricket, regardless of the opposition.”