Plans to bring the National Rugby League Museum to Huddersfield are hanging in the balance.
Kirklees Council has back-tracked on a pledge to host the museum in the newly-restored George Hotel, birthplace of the sport in 1895.
Instead the council wants to house the museum in a new building in the so-called Cultural Heart of the town centre as part of the £250 million Huddersfield Blueprint.
The council says it’s simply not “financially viable” to run a museum alongside the hotel unless the running costs were subsidised by council taxpayers.
The council’s decision has infuriated officials at the Rugby Football League and its charity arm Rugby League Cares.
In a joint statement they said: “Rugby League Cares and the Rugby Football League wish to place on record their disappointment at the poor communication and lack of clarity from Kirklees Council regarding plans to establish the National Rugby League Museum in Huddersfield.
“Kirklees won the tender to host this prestigious development in June 2020 when the local authority put forward a compelling application based on the museum being housed within the sport’s spiritual home, the George Hotel.
“It was at the George Hotel that Rugby League as a sport was born on August 29, 1895 when 21 clubs elected to break away from the Rugby Football Union to enable working class players to be compensated for taking time off work to play rugby.
“Rugby League Cares has spent the last 18 months working with Kirklees Council, the RFL, the University of Huddersfield and other stakeholders to realise this exciting project.
“However, in late 2021, Kirklees Council, without consultation, appears to have unilaterally decided that the historic George Hotel is an inappropriate venue for the National Rugby League Museum and have this week announced their desire to establish the museum elsewhere in the town.
“Despite repeated requests from Rugby League Cares and the RFL for more information on their plans, Kirklees Council have failed to identify the specific location they feel is better suited than the George Hotel to housing the National Rugby League Museum.
“Rugby League Cares and the RFL 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 following their latest media statements, Kirklees Council will provide the information and facts we need to make a decision on the viability of their proposals.”
In 2020 Kirklees won a closely-fought bid to host the RL museum fending off rival bids from Wigan, Bradford and Leeds.
It was the George Hotel’s heritage as the place where the sport’s breakaway deal was agreed that clinched the museum for Huddersfield.
At the time Kirklees Council leader Shabir Pandor said there was “no better place” for the museum than the George Hotel and regeneration chief Clr Peter McBride said: “Since we announced we wanted to bring a National Rugby League Museum to the George Hotel we have received a huge amount of support from across the world.
“It is the birthplace of the sport and it’s really important that we cherish that.”
In a statement Clr McBride, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, said: “With the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality industry, we have had to give careful consideration of our investments on behalf of local taxpayers.
“We now know that a combined hotel and museum within the refurbished George Hotel would not be financially viable without an ongoing cost to Kirklees residents.
“But Huddersfield is the birthplace of rugby league and the sport is an essential part of our heritage. That’s why we’re offering to give a home to the museum as part of our major regeneration plans in the heart of the town.
“Over the next few years, we will be building a new Cultural Heart in Huddersfield, which includes a new library, gallery, food court and entertainment space to draw people into the town.
“We have a unique opportunity to include the Rugby League Museum in one of the biggest regeneration plans in the country.
“By being part of the plans for the new Cultural Heart of Huddersfield, the museum would benefit from a new home that can both accommodate the museum as well as being flexible enough to incorporate additional activity to draw in fans and visitors over the long-term. Crucially, this plan would be financially sustainable for the long-term.
“At the same time, we will ensure that the refurbishment of the George Hotel includes a fitting tribute to the birthplace of rugby league that is in keeping with its importance in the history of the game.
“And there will be a meaningful link between the hotel and the museum, which would be located just a short walk away from each other.
“We have reached out to Rugby League Cares with our proposals and we really hope they share our vision for a museum that not only celebrates our proud history, but has a place in our exciting future too.”