COUNCIL chiefs say they are working on a business case for the iconic George Hotel in Huddersfield that will ensure its success in a hotel sector affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
And the Labor-led authority has once again said the venture would not be financially viable if it also incorporated the much-heralded National Rugby League museum.
This sent shockwaves through opposition groups who for 18 months asked for a business plan for the project but never received one.
One critic, Green Councilor Andrew Cooper, said he was “flabbergasted” and suggested there was no plan in place.
Another, Martyn Bolt of the Tories, said a full business case should have been made available before the council bought the dilapidated hotel for £1.8million.
Speaking last week, Shabir Pandor, leader of Kirklees Council, said the joint hotel and museum concept would ‘leave local taxpayers on the hook to the tune of around £20m plus interest’.
The council says this figure relates to “the expected cost to ratepayers if a combined museum and hotel concept were to go ahead”, not the refurbishment of the Grade II* listed 1850s building.
Responding to calls to unveil a business plan for the hotel, senior adviser Peter McBride said a plan for the hotel’s development was “in the works”.
This is understood to be separate from a business case for acquiring the building in 2020.
The hotel was chosen as the future site of the Rugby League Museum after Bradford Town Hall was dropped from plans in 2020.
Clr McBride said: “Our vision is to complete the large-scale refurbishment needed within the [George Hotel] and make it a high-performance hotel.
“The business plan for the development of the hotel is underway and will go through a public decision process in the future.”
He added, “We approached this project with the utmost due diligence.”
He said a business plan needed to be in place before the council could confirm an overall cost and timetable for the renovations.
Clr Bolt (Con, Mirfield), who has repeatedly asked for a business plan for the George, said: ‘I am shocked that at a reputed cost of £20m to the public purse and the people of Kirklees, no consideration was given to the financial viability of this project from the outset.
“Our residents would not be entitled to a loan without proof that they were able to repay, but it appears that Clr Pandor and his colleagues are indebting us on the premise that they can borrow from council ratepayers whenever they wish” The structural report of the building and the complete business case should have been seen before buying the building.
Fellow party Clr Richard Smith (Kirkburton), who in 2020 questioned whether the council had the expertise to run a hotel, said the latest episode smacks of “incompetence”.
He said: “The reputation of Huddersfield and, more broadly, of Kirklees, has been tarnished by this decision and it demonstrates, yet again, the totally chaotic administration going from one disastrous decision to another.
“They repeatedly refuse to listen to anyone, talk to themselves and ignore any other opinion.
“How much longer do the people of Kirklees have to put up with this chaos?”
Speaking on behalf of the Lib Dem Group, Clr Anthony Smith of Lindley said if there was a business plan he was not aware of it nor had he seen it nor did he didn’t believe it had been shared with all councillors.
Clr Cooper, whose Newsome area includes Huddersfield town centre, said: ‘I am flabbergasted that Kirklees has committed millions to refurbishing the George Hotel without a business plan.
“I welcomed the purchase of the George by the council when it was first mooted as a means of preventing it from rotting. I immediately asked for a business plan to secure it a future safe in our city.
“I and other advisers have repeatedly asked to see him. Now surprisingly we find there is no plan.
“Not only are we being kept in the dark, but it seems Kirklees Council is working in obscurity.
“I am so angry that we have been so lacking in leadership from the Labor cabinet, that we are treating our ‘partners’ in Rugby League with such contempt and that the council is so secretive about its plans or, as it appears now, no- plans.”
Clr Cooper has echoed calls from the leader of the Lib Dems at Kirklees Council, Clr John Lawson, for Clr Pandor to resign.