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Council predicts positive future for Harrogate Convention Centre despite scrapping £57m redevelopment

Senior Conservative councillors confirmed this morning that a proposed £57m redevelopment of Harrogate Convention Centre will be scrapped.

Council predicts positive future for Harrogate Convention Centre despite scrapping £57m redevelopment Senior Conservative councillors confirmed this morning that a proposed £57m redevelopment of Harrogate Convention Centre will be scrapped. But they offered a positive outlook for the facility’s future and heard it could operate without a £2.7m annual council subsidy in less than three years if it can attract outside investment to make smaller improvements. North Yorkshire Council’s executive met in Northallerton this morning and agreed that the project it inherited from the defunct Harrogate Borough Council is discontinued. A council officer described the project as unaffordable and blamed spiralling building costs which has seen the cost jump from £49m to £57m. It also failed in a bid to win Levelling Up money worth £20m from the government that would have helped to pay for the project. The council’s executive member for finance Cllr Gareth Dadd said it had been a “long and arduous task” to get to a decision on the redevelopment which he said would have achieved “dubious outcomes to say the least”. Executive member for corporate services, Cllr David Chance, said it would have been “ludicrous” to move forward in light of the current financial predicament facing the authority. The council is facing a £41.6m deficit in its budget this year with significant financial pressures on adult social care and special educational needs. Cllr Dadd said:

“It was our job to get under the bonnet of the issues and see how the landscape has changed.”
The council will now undertake market testing to see if the venue can attract investment from the private sector or elsewhere. Cllr Dadd also proposed that the council writes to each mayoral candidate for the upcoming York and North Yorkshire Combined Authority urging them to support further investment. Despite scrapping the redevelopment, Cllr Dadd maintained the council was committed to improving the HCC and said it was “not the end of the story, far from it”. The HCC opened in 1982 with conferences and events providing a boost to the town’s bars, restaurants and hotels. North Yorkshire Council says the HCC contributes £45m a year to the wider Harrogate district economy which Cllr Dadd said “should be ignored at our peril”. HCC director Paula Lorimer came out against the redevelopment arguing to do so would be counterproductive as it would involve shutting the venue for large periods. Ms Lorimer is a proponent of creating new break-out spaces for conference delegates, which she believes could attract £1m additional income each year. She told councillors that last year was the venue’s most successful in many years and if the upturn continues, along with a more commercial business model and investment, it could be “cost-neutral” for the council within just three years. Ms Lorimer also suggested the venue could be renamed to reflect “a broader Yorkshire identity”. It was previously known as the Harrogate International Centre until 2017. She said:
“I’m very committed to getting investment in the HCC but not at any cost, I do feel there are better ways of investing tactically, so we can do parts of the venue each year.”
By Thomas Barrett, Local Democracy Reporter Read more local stories from Your Harrogate here.

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