EXCLUSIVE: Headingley in £50m plan to save Test future

MARK ARTHUR believes the creation of a new £50m masterplan to redevelop Headingley cricket ground over the next 20 years will help safeguard its international future as he warned it has plunged to eighth in the pecking order of the nine Test match venues.

New Pavilion to be built in the North West area of the stadium complex, adjacent to the current Carnegie Pavilion.

The Yorkshire chief executive said the ambitious scheme, which will be officially announced today and which includes a new pavilion and a new shared stand with Leeds Rugby, will help preserve international cricket at Leeds in the face of increasingly stiff competition to host England’s Test matches and one-day internationals.

Arthur, who believes that Headingley is lagging behind the new international centres at Durham and Hampshire, leaving only Cardiff below it in terms of facilities, predicted the England and Wales Cricket Board would revert in the near future to using only six venues for England’s Tests.

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He said the loss of Test status for Headingley would have potentially dire consequences for Yorkshire and the local region, with the ground perhaps reduced to staging the odd low-key one-day international every so often.

Headingley masterplan.

Yorkshire are guaranteed international cricket until 2019 as part of a staging agreement with the ECB drawn up when they bought the Headingley ground in 2005. Post-2019, they will have to bid for games in three-year blocks and would be susceptible to losing Test status altogether.

England play seven home Tests each summer, two of which are staged at Lord’s, leaving eight grounds vying for the other five games. In addition to Headingley, Durham’s Riverside ground, the Hampshire Ageas Bowl and Cardiff’s SWALEC Stadium, England also play Test cricket at The Oval, Trent Bridge, Old Trafford and Edgbaston.

“I believe we are eighth in the list of Test match venues,” said Arthur. “I believe our facilities are behind Hampshire and Durham for international cricket, as well as those of the other Test centres.

“Unless we develop the ground over the next few years, our chances of retaining international cricket post-2019 are very slim, which is why we have put together this masterplan for Headingley. If we didn’t take action, we might get the odd one-day match against one of the smaller cricket countries, but the days of Test matches here would be gone.”

Arthur added: “I believe that we’ll end up moving back to a situation where there are only six Test match grounds. There is a report being done at the moment by Deloitte, commissioned by the ECB, to look at the viability of international grounds with a view to saying that these are the six we’re going to go with, and the others are going to get one-day internationals from time to time.

“At the moment, the simple fact is there are grounds with better facilities than ours. If we ever lost Test cricket, the club would lose part of its DNA and it would have a huge economic impact on the Leeds city region.”

Arthur believes three things are essential to keeping international cricket at Headingley. First, the club must install permanent floodlights, which is phase one of the masterplan and now a requirement of the International Cricket Council to host international games. Yorkshire, who last week gained permission from Leeds City Council to erect floodlights, are confident they will raise £1.1m to have them in place for the start of next season.

Second, Arthur said Yorkshire must get the capacity of Headingley up towards 20,000, which is phase two of the scheme. This will be achieved through the redevelopment of the North/South Stand – aka Rugby Stand – which also serves the adjoining rugby ground used by Leeds Rhinos and Leeds Carnegie. Yorkshire hope work on this £15m stand – which they will jointly finance with Leeds Rugby and which will raise the cricket ground capacity to 19,000 – will start at the end of the 2017 season and be finished for the 2019 season. Finally, and very simply, Arthur says Yorkshire must put more bums on seats.

“The bottom line is that we need to get more people here for international matches,” he said. “In the short term, we’ve addressed the issue of international ticket prices and are trying to do things like improve the environment of the ground, the friendliness of the place, and so on.

“It’s fundamental that we get more people to come and watch because if the Yorkshire public say, ‘You know what, we’re not bothered about international cricket at Headingley’, then matches will go to other grounds. We also have to let the ECB know we have a clear plan to develop our ground to international standards of the future, otherwise they’ll just say, ‘Poor old Headingley, shame they didn’t get their act together, but we’ll give them the odd one-day international from time to time.’

The masterplan, which Yorkshire are undertaking in conjunction with Leeds Rugby, Leeds City Council and DLA Architecture, will increase Headingley’s capacity from 17,090 to 20,362. It consists of six phases: the floodlights and the North/South Stand, followed by the addition of 915 seats to the upper tier of the North East Stand, a new £15-20m cricket pavilion, the erection of a translucent cantilever roof over the White Rose Stand and landscaping on the White Rose Stand/North East Stand concourses.