THE historic rugby stand at Headingley cricket ground could be closed for all Yorkshire and England games for the next two years due to concerns over spectator safety.
The Yorkshire Post can reveal that part of the stand has been condemned due to corrosion and that the rest of the structure could also be unsafe.
The club have commissioned a structural engineer’s report to find out the full extent of the problem in the upper tier and whether it can be resolved.
But Yorkshire say the cost of repairs could be prohibitive as the stand is due to be rebuilt from 2017 anyway in time for the 2019 season.
Yorkshire – who have suspended ticket sales for the stand that dates back to 1932 – have reserved alternative seats for spectators and plan to contact ticket-holders individually once they have greater clarity on the issues.
It is understood that the rugby side of the Headingley operation is not affected as rugby spectators do not use or gain access via that part of the shared, double-sided stand.
If Yorkshire are forced to close their side of the stand, it would reduce capacity to circa 14,000 – impacting on the sell-out crowds they usually get each year for their home Twenty20 game against Lancashire and for the Headingley one-day international, which this year sees England face Australia on September 11.
The club estimate they would lose around £130,000 if the stand was forced to shut for two years and, by definition, never be used again due to the proposed £15m redevelopment starting in two years.
Mark Arthur, the Yorkshire chief executive, said: “The upper floor balustrade at the front of the balcony has been condemned, awaiting a further structural engineer’s report.
“It’s basically corroded at the front of the stand; some of the plaster has come off the front of the balustrade and it’s just not safe. If somebody leaned against the front of the balustrade, they could fall straight over and straight down.
“Obviously, the safety of spectators will always come first.
“Until we know the extent of the problem, it’s better to close the stand and not sell any more tickets in case the repairs would prove to be a greater expense than any derived income over the next two years, bearing in mind that we will be rebuilding that stand in time for the 2019 season.
“At this stage, we don’t know if the stand can be repaired and whether it would potentially cost us £10,000 to patch it up or over £100,000 to patch it up.
“If it’s going to cost over £100,000, we’re not going to spend that money and throw good money after bad.
“It’s a blow, but only potentially for two days of the year, which is for the one-day international and the T20 match against Lancashire, which are the only days that we really sell out.”
Arthur said one possible solution was to close the upper tier and use the bottom tier only.
However, he said it might not be that simple.
“It might be possible to just use the ground floor of the stand, the bottom tier, but when you get people in stands you get what’s known as vibration,” he added.
“It’s not just a question of roping an area off.
“If you’ve got a lot of vibration, and suddenly a great lump of concrete comes off the front and bangs on somebody’s head…
“We simply wouldn’t open the stand unless it was absolutely safe to do so.
“Of course, it is going to adversely affect us in terms of the Lancashire T20 game and the one-day international, but it’s not likely to affect us for any other games.
“It would just mean that, with reduced capacity, we were closer to a sell-out situation in some other games.
“There’s probably about 1,000 usable seats in the rugby stand as some are partially-obscured views due to the television gantry, and so on, so if you’ve got a seat costing, say, £50 for a one-day international, that’s going to equate to £50,000 each time and if you’ve got a seat costing, say, £15 for the Lancashire T20, that’s going to equate to £15,000 each time.
“So the impact on the club would be roughly £65,000 each year – or £130,000 over two years.”
Arthur said problems with the stand merely emphasise the importance of redeveloping Headingley to safeguard the ground’s future in the face of increasing competition to stage international games.
Last year, he announced a £50m master plan to improve the stadium during the next 20 years – including floodlights that will be in place for this season.
“It emphasises what I’ve been saying which, among other things, is that that the rugby stand is beyond its sell-by-date and that if we don’t rebuild it and our capacity is down to something like 14,000 going forward, it would put the nail in our coffin for international cricket,” he said.
“When you’ve got 25 per cent of the ground effectively condemned, and you’re in competition with brand-new stadiums like Hampshire, refurbished grounds like Old Trafford, Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, you can see how far Leeds is behind the other major international venues, and it proves we’ve got to improve our facilities to keep international cricket at Headingley.”
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