Yorkshire agree deal to quit Headingley

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The Independent Online
Yorkshire yesterday announced that they are to abandon Headingley - one of the game's great venues - and move to a new pounds 50m complex at Wakefield, where they hope to be installed by 2000.

Headingley, the county's home since 1896 and a venue for 59 Tests, some the most famous in history, will be left behind for a greenfield site on which will be built a stadium seating 25,000 to 35,000, with parking for 1,400 vehicles. Amazingly, the move will cost the club nothing.

Yorkshire, tenants at their Leeds base, will own the complex, which will be developed in conjunction with Wakefield Metropolitan Council, who will fund the project through grants, including pounds 28m from the National Lottery, and land sales. Wakefield council's leader, Colin Croxhall, called it "the deal of the century. World-beating facilities for nil outlay".

There will be some resistance from the old guard, but the committee, and president, Sir Lawrence Byford, feel they have the support of the great majority of Yorkshire's 10,000 members.

Wakefield council have already done a smoothly professional PR job. Each Yorkshire member has already received a video, the theme of which is "Yorkshire cannot survive on nostalgia".

A fifth of all the cricket played in England is played within the county, but the county club, 33 times champions, have never, as Sir Lawrence pointed out yesterday, owned more than an office block and an indoor school.

The argument for the move is apparently irrefutable: Yorkshire will get a pounds 32m stadium, designed by Arup Associates, who have already built stadiums in Johannesburg and designed one in Sydney.

The new site is close by the junction of the M1 and M62, 90 minutes' drive for 17 million people. A railway runs alongside and Wakefield will build a new station. There will be five practice pitches, the cricket academy, indoor school, conference and banqueting facilities, a museum, a creche, library and a marina on the River Calder.

Work can start immediately with the aim of playing first-class cricket at Wakefield in the summer of 2000. Leeds would continue to stage first- class matches, and Tests until the new ground, especially the new square, was ready.

Yorkshire have been contemplating the move for two years. Headingley, like other inner-city grounds, has enormous traffic and parking problems. The ground is owned by the Leeds Rugby League Club, who take advertising and catering revenue and who have been prevented from improving facilities by objections from residents.

Crowd behaviour on the Western Terrace in recent years has become a major liability, bringing calls for the removal of the Test fixture, and in the North-east, Durham's spanking new ground at Riverside posed a future rivalry.

Leeds Council have tried hard to keep Yorkshire within the city boundaries by offering alternative sites but their proposals involved planning enquiries and would have been costly. The Leeds club have offered to sell Headingley to Yorkshire, but the cricket club would have been left with the attendant problems plus rebuilding costs.

The announcement leaves a question mark against the future of the Headingley complex, which is owned by Leeds Rugby League Club, whose headquarters are back-to-back with the cricket ground. There have been reports of a takeover by Caspian, who own Leeds United, and a subsequent move to Elland Road. That could leave Leeds Rugby Union Club homeless when their three- year deal to play home games at Headingley runs out.