Questions have been asked over the future of the £100 million HD One leisure scheme which would have seen a snow centre and ski slope built at the John Smith’s Stadium.

The ambitious project was first unveiled in 2008 and as recently as 2017, Kirklees Stadium Development Ltd (KSDL), the company which owns the stadium, was ready to press the button and start work “straightaway.”

Nothing happened and then came the Covid-19 pandemic and little has been heard of it since.

At Wednesday’s meeting of Kirklees Council’s Cabinet, Lindley Tory councillor Adam Gregg raised the issue, saying: “HD One was given a lot of support by the council. Is it still going ahead and what’s the ambition?”

In around 2017 KSDL signed a joint venture agreement with a developer and set up a new company The HD One Kirklees Ltd to deliver the project.

The scheme was to include a snow sports centre with a state-of-the-art artificial ski slope; a Hollywood Bowl ten-pin bowling centre; major restaurant chains including Nando’s, Five Guys and Zizzi; and a four-star 150-bed Radisson Park Inn hotel.

It was said the scheme would “provide Kirklees with a state-of-the-art leisure destination facility that will pull people from across the North.”

A vision of the future – or of the past?

At the time it was reported that Kirklees Council was to provide a £9 million loan for the hotel and a loan of around £4 million for the snow centre.

The 20-acre scheme, which has outline planning permission, stalled and there was controversy over the location of the proposed hotel at the far end of the Town Avenue car park across the footbridge opposite the main entrance.

Residents in Town Avenue feared the hotel would overlook their homes and complained that a playing field – also used as matchday parking for stadium staff – would be lost.

At the end of the 2018-19 football season it seemed like work on the hotel was ready to start but Town’s relegation from the Premier League and economic uncertainty over Brexit followed by the Covid-19 pandemic saw the HD One scheme put on hold indefinitely.

HD One was to have been the “saviour” of KSDL, the company owned by Kirklees Council (40%), Huddersfield Town (40%) and Huddersfield Giants (20%).

In March 2021 Kirklees Council proposed a new ownership structure for the stadium, saying the existing model was failing and the company was at risk of administration.

The company had restructured debt in the short term but there was the timebomb of a repairs and maintenance backlog at the ageing stadium which would cost an estimated £9 million over the next decade.

A council report in March 2021 said HD One would have rescued the stadium in the medium to long term but had “stalled in the current economic climate.”

At the Cabinet meeting this week there were no answers to Clr Gregg’s question. In reply council leader Shabir Pandor said: “HD One was a project primarily led by the stadium.

“I know there was a lot of detailed work that went in but it’s not a council project. I will get some more information.”

More clues were to be found in a report of the KSDL directors, published with the annual accounts for the year ending July 2021.

It says: “Although work on HD One had already been suspended, the effect of the pandemic during the year meant that all prospective tenant companies that had previously entered into drafting of heads of agreement, suspended their interest.”

That would suggest all the big-name companies pulled out. At the time there wasn’t an upmarket hotel in Huddersfield and Radisson, of course, have now done a deal with Kirklees Council to open the George Hotel in the town centre as a Radisson Red.

Since the pandemic, the whole focus of KSDL has been keeping the stadium lights on and the company’s own future has also been under the microscope. All attention has been on that and not HD One.

The council had drawn up plans for the stadium to be handed over to a newly-created Community Trust, protecting its future. As part of that deal the council would have lent the Trust £13 million and bought a plot of former industrial land – currently used as overflow car parking – from the stadium company.

Legal papers were about to be drawn up but then Town’s ownership situation changed. Town chairman Phil Hodgkinson had backed the deal – and in September last year plans for a 165-bed hotel appeared to be back on with planning permission secured. Read more about Mr Hodgkinson’s hotel plan HERE.

However, a few weeks later Mr Hodgkinson’s own business issues meant he had to give up his shares in the football club and former chairman Dean Hoyle returned.

Mr Hoyle vetoed the Community Trust idea, the hotel scheme disappeared and KSDL’s whole future was back at risk once again.

In May this year Mr Hoyle brought in experienced football consultant Dave Baldwin to help find a way forward.

Mr Hoyle had taken back control of the football club but his medium-term aim was to sell it and to ensure a “clean” deal he knew the stadium ownership question had to be resolved.

Mr Baldwin, since appointed managing director at Town, has been working closely with directors at KSDL and a new structure is being drawn up where Town would become lead tenant at the stadium with operational control – and responsibility for repairs and maintenance.

The complex details of how this would work are still to be finalised but the council would retain the freehold to the stadium site and conditions and restrictions would control what could be done with the land, safeguarding its future. The Giants would have a licence or lease agreement to protect their use of the stadium too.

Huddersfield Hub understands that if Town effectively take responsibility for “everything” – removing any loan liabilities from council taxpayers – the council is likely to accept an ownership structure different to the Community Trust which Cabinet approved last year.

It is understood the council is currently drawing up a report to Cabinet and progress is expected early in the New Year.

So where does this leave HD One? Clearly, it’s not been a “live” project since 2018, the world has moved on, economic circumstances have shifted and a recession is looming.

There is no work actively being done on HD One and while you can never say never in this uncertain world, HD One – as it was originally envisaged – just isn’t going to happen.