Bradford Bulls vow Odsal improvement despite funding blow

BRADFORD BULLS’ hopes of Odsal becoming the largest permanently-covered stadium in the country have been dealt a major blow after the Government left all four of the city’s proposed schemes out of the latest round of ‘levelling up’ funding.

But the Championship club insist they will continue their bid to establish an “appropriate modern facility” to replace their current home.

In September, Bradford Council unveiled a £50 million plan to build a new 25,000-capacity venue on the site of the historic Rugby League ground, which once held more than 100,000, as one of the quartet of regeneration projects it was hoped would get the central financial backing.

The Odsal scheme, which also took in the nearby former Richard Dunn Sports Centre, last year given listed-building status, included the creation of a new Rugby League skills centre, a park and ride area, sports pitches, a hotel and a solar farm.

But, along with bids to reopen a swimming pool in Bingley, make Keighley a leading centre for advanced robotics and set up wellbeing hubs in some of Bradford’s most deprived areas, it has been rejected by the fund, which the Government says will boost every area of the country but which critics argue is weighted towards the South-East.

Bradford Council leader Susan Hinchcliffe said: “I am extremely disappointed in the levelling up announcement.

“A lot of work has gone into developing these bids and it’s disheartening that the Government has failed to recognise our district’s potential this time.

“However, the council and our local partners remain committed to doing everything we can to make the district prosperous and vibrant and we will be making the most of all opportunities to deliver for local people.

“Our unfunded levelling projects are ready to go and we are now looking at all options to see how they can be progressed without this Government support.”

West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin described the development as “extremely disappointing” and added: “Forcing areas to compete against each other for funds cannot be the way we level up.”

Bulls officials were equally disappointed by the decision, but have resolved to continue to find ways to redevelop their home ground.

“Obviously we are disappointed by the decision and we are awaiting a detailed explanation and feedback,” the Bulls told League Express.

“However, our commitment to improve the facilities available to our supporters remains undiminished. 

“Fortunately the Local Authority and our civic leaders totally recognise the need to address this issue and are very supportive.

“Odsal Stadium is one of the key sites, together with the adjoining sports centre, on the city’s southern gateway, next to the motorway. It is in the city’s economic interests, Rugby League’s and, vitally, the Bulls to deliver a strategic plan for this area. We are confident that all stakeholders remain totally focused on delivering a positive outcome for the club’s supporters and look forward to the forthcoming discussions on our next steps.

“We await formal communication and an explanation from the City of Bradford Metropolitan Council about their proposed next steps in regenerating the South Bradford gateway including the former Richard Dunn Sports Centre and the world-famous Odsal Stadium. 

“The only real failure is giving up and we are not about to do that.”

With the exception of a spell ground sharing at Dewsbury from the start of the 2020 season until May 2021 (due to rising maintenance costs, which remain a problem for the Championship club), former world champions Bradford have played at Odsal, which has also hosted speedway and is currently also used for stock car racing, since it was opened in 1934.

The stadium, the lease of which is owned by the Rugby Football League, has hosted a string of big matches, including England and Great Britain internationals.

In 1954, it attracted the UK record Rugby League crowd of 102,569 for the Challenge Cup final replay in which Warrington beat Halifax 8-4.

The first floodlit rugby match in the North of England was held at Odsal in 1951, while Bradford’s record gate of 69,429 was recorded in 1954, when Huddersfield won 17-7 in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup.

During that era, Stanley Wardley, Bradford’s city engineer who was behind the major redevelopment of the city centre in the 1960s, drew up a plan for a 92,000-capacity stadium at Odsal, at a cost of £250,000 (around £10 million now), but while improvements to the terracing were made, the project was eventually dropped.