Yorkshire warned stadium revamp '˜almost out of time'

MARK ARTHUR will today tell Yorkshire's supporters that the club are 'almost out of time' in their attempt to retain international cricket.

The county’s chief executive will spell out the dire position at the club’s annual meeting at Headingley (10am) and admit that the club have not yet got a solution.

Yorkshire must find £16.5m to build a new main stand to guarantee international cricket at Headingley post-2019.

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The club’s staging agreement with the England and Wales Cricket Board – negotiated as part of Yorkshire’s purchase of the Headingley ground in 2005 – expires in 2019, and Yorkshire have been told by the ECB they will not be considered for Tests after that without the necessary redevelopment.

In order to build the new stand in time for the 2019 season, with Headingley’s four games in that year’s World Cup contingent on its construction, work must start by September 1 this year.

Before then, various preliminaries have to be put in place (financial agreements, construction arrangements, and so on), meaning there is precious little time to work with.

Last year, the executive board of Leeds City Council voted to grant Yorkshire £4m only for that proposal to gain insufficient support from councillors.

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Although Yorkshire have been working tirelessly on the rest of the £12.5m jigsaw, there remains a funding shortfall that threatens not only the future of international cricket at Leeds, but also the likelihood that Headingley would be a hosting venue in the new city-based T20 franchise competition set to start in 2020.

“We’re almost out of time,” Arthur told The Yorkshire Post.

“We don’t have a solution to the funding of the new stand. If we don’t build it, that’s the end of international cricket at Headingley.

“It’s as simple as that – cut and dried. The allocation of future international matches takes place this summer.

“Matches from 2020 to 2023 will be allocated by the ECB.

“If we don’t build the new stand, Headingley will miss out.

“If Yorkshire loses international cricket, it would clearly have a serious impact on very many businesses.”

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Despite having hosted international cricket for over a century, Headingley is being left behind in terms of facilities.

With more grounds than ever vying to stage international matches, Yorkshire cannot rely on history and sentiment to guarantee games.

For the past three and a half years, they have been trying to fund the new stand while working closely with Leeds City Council and neighbours Leeds Rugby in pursuit of a part-grant, part-loan solution.

The new stand is part of an overall £38m Headingley redevelopment scheme that includes the construction of a new rugby South Stand, with all parties still trying to come up with answers.

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“We are still working tirelessly to try to find a solution,” said Arthur.

“Ever since the grant was withdrawn, we’ve been working with Leeds City Council and Leeds Rugby, and other entities, trying to find a way of funding the new stand.

“The leader of Leeds City Council, Judith Blake, and the senior officers have been very supportive throughout the process.

“We are trying our best to find the money.

“At this moment in time, we haven’t got a formula to put to our members.

“What we can’t go to them with is a half-baked proposal.

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“If the board does come to a resolution at some stage in the near future, which means that we can recommend a financial proposal to the members, then we would call an extraordinary general meeting to go through the numbers.

“At this moment, though, we haven’t got anything to recommend.”

Despite being circa £24m in debt, Yorkshire believe they have turned the corner financially.

They recorded a small pre-tax profit in 2016 (the first full year of trading without the support of former chairman Colin Graves, or the benefit of a refinancing package), and they have increased income by some £2m in the last three years.

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Should Yorkshire lose international cricket, they insist that they would remain solvent, but they would be unable to pay their debts as quickly.

The new city-based T20 tournament would give them and all the first-class counties a minimum of £1.3m a year for five years, regardless of whether a county is a hosting venue.

But Yorkshire – the biggest county both in geographical and cricketing terms – would 
effectively be reduced to second-class status, a fate from which they might never recover as they battle rival grounds with whom they are already struggling to compete.