Huddersfield council in talks on future of rugby league birthplace hotel

THE future of a prominent Yorkshire hotel, which closed earlier this month, is to be discussed by council leaders, an entrepreneur, an MP and a university chief.

The Grade II listed George Hotel, where rugby league was founded in 1895, shut on January 2 and is currently for sale.

Politicians have vowed to do all they can to get it up and running - preferably as an hotel.

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On Friday this week, Kirklees Council leader Mehboob Khan, chief executive Adrian Lythgo, Huddersfield University vice-chancellor, Professor Bob Cryan, MP Barry Sheerman and local entrepreneur Graham Leslie are meeting to discuss the building’s future.

It is understood that Mr Leslie is not interested in taking on the project himself.

Councillor Khan said the meeting would be discussing how the public sector could work with the private sector to ensure the building remained a hotel.

“We (the council) will not be putting money in but we can market the business opportunities that Huddersfield has.

“We want (potential buyers) to know there is sufficient local trade (to sustain a hotel). Outside London, we are the third most important area for manufacturing. Huddersfield does lack a good quality four star hotel.”

One idea is for a share issue which would invite individuals to contribute £50 each towards saving the building.

Mr Sheerman believes rugby league lovers from across the world might buy into this idea as the hotel houses the Rugby League Heritage Centre,

Councillor Khan said the share issue idea could be used to reduce the risk to a potential investor from the private sector.

He wants to see the building re-open as a hotel.

“It’s important that the George doesn’t fall into the hands of someone who holds onto it and leaves it empty or someone who wants to turn it into student accommodation.”

Members of Huddersfield Civic Society are also concerned that the building will become something other than a hotel.

Green councillor Andrew Cooper said the George needed a “vision” and someone with drive and marketing skills to draw in custom.

“It has been poorly marketed and now looks sad and tatty.”

Coun Cooper said he found it “bizarre” that the George had struggled despite the council investing millions in St George’s Square, which is immediately in front of the building.

“The George needs a vision,” he added.

“It can’t be a budget hotel as the competition is too great; it needs to go upmarket a bit and that will need investment to give the place a significant facelift.

“It will need to re-engage with the town and have a high profile hotel manager with strong marketing skills to draw on. The George has a lot going for it – history, character and the birthplace of rugby league in 1895.”

He said the previous owners had failed to engage with events in the town, including the Huddersfield Food and Drink Festival.

“They took a fairly isolationist approach. They seemed to have failed to engage with what was going on locally.

“Apparently, during the food and drink festival the George was fairly empty, unable to capitalise on the potential trade on its doorstep. It all smacks of poor management and a disengagement from the town and the opportunities that presented themselves.”

Coun Copper is backing the suggestion to link any future hotel business to a local college to offer students hand-on experience in a “catering academy” environment.

“Students could be trained by professionals, on the job. It’s an excellent suggestion. It could be an academy for people getting into the hospitality sector.”

Coun Cooper said he would be asking Coun Khan what the council was doing to help secure the future of the George.

Mr Leslie was not available to comment.