Kirklees Council is pressing ahead with “aggressive” re-development plans for the George Hotel and wants to have a “quality hotel operator” lined up by the summer.
The council sparked anger – and disappointment – when it dropped a pledge to house the National Rugby League Museum at the hotel at the end of last year, saying it would cost taxpayers £20 million.
Council leader Shabir Pandor has faced calls for his resignation over the saga and has refused to answer questions from opposition parties over whether the council compiled a business case before spending £1.8 million on the derelict listed building back in 2020.
The hotel – the birthplace of rugby league in 1895 – closed in 2013 and asbestos had to be removed before the building could be made secure and watertight.
Work has stopped and listed building consent is still awaited for external repairs, replacement windows and re-roofing works.
However, the council has set what it describes as an “aggressive” timetable and wants the hotel open in 2025.
In a report to be presented to the council’s Economy and Neighbourhoods Scrutiny Panel on Thursday March 3, the council says the main objective is to “secure the most sustainable long-term future” for the building.
That is seen as a hotel but the number of rooms – and the size of the rooms – is crucial to making it viable. Previously a 60-bedroom hotel, the council has been advised it needs at least 90 rooms to make it a successful business.
The council plans to start talking to potential hotel operators in March or April and wants a “preferred operator” lined up in time for the summer when a more detailed plan will go to Cabinet.
This is what the council report says in full about the George Hotel:
“The hotel came into council possession in 2020. Since that time work has taken place on the first phase of physical repair to the building to ensure that it is watertight and is fit for the next phase of development.
“The project is complex and due to be completed by January 2023. At that point the building will be ready for the re-development phase.
“The main objective is to secure the most sustainable long-term future for the building. To achieve this alongside the phase 1 physical work, work has been progressing with a specialist Development Manager to identify an optimum use and offer for the building that is attractive to the market. This includes early engagement with hotel operators.
READ MORE: What the George Hotel looks like inside now
“To be attractive to a quality hotel operator current specialist advice identifies the need to increase room numbers and sizes; deal with accessibility issues throughout the building and ensure the food and beverage space can be maximized.
“Clearly, the listed status of the building is also a major consideration so work has been undertaken with a conservation architect with experience of hotel development.
“The next stage of this work will be to develop a final design for the new hotel. It is likely that a report will be presented to Cabinet in summer 2022 outlining a preferred design, costs and potential preferred operator. Ahead of this the concept will be marketed to the hotel sector during March and April 2022.
“The programme that has been set is aggressive with a planned completion and opening in 2025.”
The council wants to re-locate the RL museum to the town’s Cultural Heart but Rugby League Cares, the RL’s charity arm behind the project, is ready to listen to offers from other towns and cities. Officials say it was only the George Hotel’s historic connection to the sport that won Huddersfield the bid.