Headingley future assured after council reaches funding agreement
Headingley's future as a Test venue appears to have been assured, following a funding agreement between Yorkshire and Leeds City Council over the redevelopment of the ground's rugby stand that has served a dual purpose for cricket and rugby clubs over the past 84 years.
Without the agreement, the ground's future would have been in immediate peril. The club, already £24 million in debt, required council support to fulfil their £17 million share of a £32 million joint redevelopment with Leeds Rhinos, without which, the ECB had indicated, the ground could not be awarded any international fixtures beyond 2019.
Now, however, Leeds City Council has brokered a £35m investment from a London-based investment group, subject to final approval by the authority's executive board. The investors have proposed to build the new stands and rent them back to the cricket and rugby clubs.
The agreement follows a sizeable public outcry following the council's decision to withdraw the promise of a £4m grant to Yorkshire as it drew up its £2bn budget in a febrile atmosphere in which central government cutbacks sparked an internal row within the ruling Labour group over the closure of three are homes.
Yorkshire were also at loggerheads over the proposed term of any private loan which councils are able to obtain at preferential rates compared to the open market.
"I'm delighted we've found a solution that will ensure Headingley continues to enjoy full international sporting status," Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said.
"Subject to the final approval of the council's executive board, this will deliver the funding to redevelop the stadium in full. The money will be provided by a private financial services company at no cost to the council tax payer, which offers the best and most viable option moving forward."
Mark Arthur, Yorkshire's chief executive, said: "We would like to thank councillor Judith Blake and Leeds City Council for their support in reaching this point. There is still a way to go, however, it is a significant step in securing the future of international cricket at Headingley.
"Yorkshire County Cricket Club will continue to work hard to ensure that all remaining funds are in place to ensure that the redevelopment is completed in time for the Cricket World Cup in 2019."
Gary Hetherington, chief executive of Leeds Rhinos, added: "We have been working closely with Leeds City Council and partners to find a solution to ensure international sport continues at Headingley Carnegie for many years to come and we appreciate all the effort and commitment put in by Leeds City Council to broker this deal.
"There is still much to do but recent developments are very encouraging and could provide the funding mechanism to complete the redevelopment work."