Leeds council rushes through £35m Headingley stadium redevelopment deal - work could start '˜within weeks'

Work on a major £35m redevelopment of Headingley stadium could start within weeks, after Leeds council's cabinet rushed through its approval of an emergency deal to safeguard the long-term future of international cricket in the city.

As previously reported, planning permission for the development of both the rugby and cricket sides of the stadium was granted two months ago, but work was delayed due to a lack of funding. Earlier this month, Leeds City Council revealed that it has brokered an agreement with a private financial services firm which will provide the bulk of the funding for the project.

Although no initial taxpayer money will be involved, the council is effectively underwriting the deal. It had previously looked at offering a £4m loan to the cricket club, but the offer was withdrawn.

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At today’s executive board meeting at Leeds Civic Hall, councillors across the parties voted to rush through approval of the new deal so that final agreements can be signed between the four key parties, and work can start by the end of June.

Martin Farrington, the council’s director of city development, explained that the South stand at the stadium has to be developed in order for the ground to meet the criteria to be a Cricket World Cup venue in 2019. The absence of a deal would expose the club to a “significant risk” of losing out, he told colleagues.

He said the executive board’s approval paves the way for final agreement to be signed by the end of June.

The timescale was “critical and twofold” he said, as initial “soft stripping” work at the ground needs to start in preparation for construction work to begin by September this year.

However to ensure that major pieces of equipment can be ordered in time. For the development to progress, “confidence of developer has to be put in place for them to make those payments”.

A request had been submitted ahead of the meeting by councillor Mark Dobson, independent councillor for Garforth who quit the Labour group just weeks ago, for the decision to be scrutinised by a cross-party watchdog panel before it is signed doff.

However councillor Stewart Golton, leader of the Lib Dem group, agreed with the call-in request and reserved his party’s position.

As part of the deal, the council will lease the new facilities from the investor.

Yorkshire County Cricket Club and Leeds Rhinos will then take sub-leases from the council to cover the cost of the development in full.

To protect and reduce the risk to the council, both clubs will have to provide adequate security on both assets and income should there be any default in their rent.

Councillor Judith Blake, leader of the council, told today’s meeting that “risk is a major factor, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been absolutely scrupulous in looking at the way that we want to take this forward”.

She admitted that “time pressure” meant the authority had to move in haste to some extent.

But she added: “We have to move forward and provide the facilities we need for the city going forward.” She stressed the safeguarding and cricket and rugby in the city went “hand in hand”.

Councillor Carter added there was a “compelling” case for the council’s intervention as the cricket and rugby clubs were “two significant contributors to the life of the city”.