Hopes of bringing the National Rugby League Museum to Huddersfield are fading fast, according to a business-led organisation set up to promote the town.
Back in 2020 Huddersfield Unlimited backed Kirklees Council’s plans to restore the derelict George Hotel and make it the home of the National RL Museum.
The George Hotel was the birthplace of the sport in 1895 and the council teamed up with Rugby League Cares, the Rugby Football League’s charity arm, to return the sport to its spiritual home.
Last year Kirklees Council back-tracked on the deal saying it would cost £20 million to house the museum in the hotel, leaving taxpayers with ongoing liabilities.
Since then the council has pushed forward with plans to redevelop the hotel and is planning an extension to increase the number of bedrooms from 60 to 90-plus in order to make it financially viable.
The council has been talking to hotel operators and a big announcement is said to be imminent.
The council’s decision to pull out of what RL Cares described as a “legally-binding contract” sparked outrage and other towns and cities which initially thought they had missed out on the museum – notably Wigan – were quick to throw their hats back in the ring.
Last January Rugby League Cares hadn’t ruled out legal action against Kirklees and what angered officials more was not that Kirklees had just reneged on the deal, it was that they believed no proper feasibility study had been carried out. Rugby League Cares said they offered to pay for one but the council refused.
Kirklees Council insisted it still wanted the museum in Huddersfield and had offered space in the proposed £210 million Cultural Heart, which will have a new museum in the current library and art gallery building.
Since January nothing has been heard of the plans for the RL museum and now Huddersfield Unlimited, a business organisation which stands for the town, fears it will soon be too late.
In a statement Huddersfield Unlimited said: “Huddersfield Unlimited is concerned that the timescale for finding an alternative location is stretching out and, as a result, the Rugby League Museum might go elsewhere.
“We are working to promote Huddersfield as a place to do business and to invest, and we do not want to see its image and reputation suffer from failure to deliver on the commitments made in 2020.
“We have urged both the council and the Rugby Football League to work together to develop a practical alternative offer.”
Huddersfield Unlimited chairman Sir John Harman – a former Kirklees Council leader – said: “We agree with the council that to house the whole of a national museum in the George would incur unsustainable cost to the public purse.
“We support the council’s plans to redevelop the George and that the only obvious commercial solution for the building is as a hotel, but it also needs to be linked to, and provide part of, an alternative museum proposal.
“We believe an alternative solution can be found if the council and the Rugby Football League really want to do so, and if we can help in this, we will.
“The council has ambitious plans for renewal of the town centre’s ‘Cultural Heart’ and we encourage everyone who cares about the future of the town to have their say in the consultation which is taking place.
“The museum could be part of those plans, as the council has suggested, but we would point out that if the long timescale for that is a problem, there are other buildings in Huddersfield town centre in need of renewal and regeneration.
“What is clear is that the remodelling of the George Hotel and the plans for a museum need to proceed in step.
“Huddersfield should be the national and international home for the history of Rugby League, not only because of the historic significance of the George Hotel, but because of the extensive archives of the game held by the University of Huddersfield. It must be possible to make this happen.”
Sir John was leader of Kirklees Council between 1986 and 1999 and, along with entrepreneur Prof Graham Leslie CBE, was a driving force behind the building of the John Smith’s Stadium, a joint home for Huddersfield Town and Huddersfield Giants.
A spokesman for RL Cares said: “We have yet to receive a firm alternative proposal for the development of a National Rugby League Museum in Huddersfield from Kirklees Council.
“Nevertheless, we remain committed to working with the Rugby Football League and other partners to deliver a world class museum which tells the story of the sport and its wonderful communities.”
Kirklees Council has been asked to comment.