Councillor fears George Hotel U-turn means Rugby League museum could go elsewhere

The RFL and the charity Rugby League Cares have accused Kirklees Council of taking a “unilateral” decision to move away from the plan to house a new national museum for the sport at Huddersfield’s historic George Hotel.

And the councillor behind a petition calling on Kirklees to keep to their original proposal rather than base the attraction at an alternative site on the other side of the town centre believes “an awful lot of sweet talking” will be needed to prevent RL Cares, who are partners in the project and will run the museum, from now heading elsewhere.

Kirklees’ success in beating rival bids from Bradford, Leeds and Wigan, announced in June 2020, hinged on the museum being set up at Rugby League’s famous 1895 birthplace, which, having been closed since 2013, has been purchased by the council as part of an ambitious £250 million town-centre regeneration scheme.

But in a highly-controversial development, the authority are insisting that it would be better sited at a different venue, widely thought to be the current library, which under the so-called Huddersfield Blueprint, will form part of the town’s ‘cultural heart’.

The council say a combined hotel and museum at the grade-two listed Victorian building adjacent to the railway station “would not be financially viable without an ongoing cost to Kirklees residents”.

Senior councillor Peter McBride added: “We have made our position clear to the charity (RL Cares) and the next steps are their decision.

“We have reiterated our passion for bringing the museum to Huddersfield and believe that the new cultural heart would be a fitting home.”

In a joint statement, the RFL and RL Cares said: “In late 2021, Kirklees Council, without consultation, appear to have unilaterally decided that the historic George Hotel is an inappropriate venue for the National Rugby League Museum and have announced their desire to establish the museum elsewhere in the town.

“Despite repeated requests from the RFL and Rugby League Cares for more information on their plans, Kirklees Council have failed to identify the specific location they feel is better suited to housing the museum.

“The RFL and Rugby League Cares are continuing to seek clarification from Kirklees Council about both their volte face on the viability of the George Hotel and the actual location of an alternative venue.

“We hope that Kirklees Council will provide the information and facts we need to make a decision on the viability of their proposals.”

Like Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman, Councillor Andrew Cooper, whose ward includes the town centre and whose petition has topped 9,000 signatures, has offered to act as a go-between in a bid to find a way forward.

“I am beyond perplexed by a situation I feel is an utter shambles and will damage the reputation of the town and the council,” said Councillor Cooper.

“I am asking for scrutiny over how the council made such a public commitment to host the museum at the George Hotel, yet have now gone back on it, what due diligence was carried out originally and at what point the decision to go in another direction was taken.

“I hope Huddersfield still gets the museum but, given the way Rugby League Cares appears to have been presented with a fait accompli, I understand why they will be thinking long and hard about the situation.”

“I think the council has an awful lot of sweet talking to do.”

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