Council may consider selling Harrogate Convention Centre
by
Jan 16, 2024
Harrogate Convention Centre and Richard Flinton

North Yorkshire Council is in talks with private companies about the possibility of selling Harrogate Convention Centre.

The convention centre has been council-owned since it opened in 1982.

But last year’s abolition of previous owners Harrogate Borough Council, along with the need to find tens of millions of pounds for a major refurbishment, has prompted North Yorkshire Council to consider a fresh approach.

Richard Flinton, chief executive of North Yorkshire Council, told Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce last night it wanted to “understand private sector interest in the building” although he added “that doesn’t necessarily mean the council will look to offload it”.

Richard Flinton at last night’s meeting.

Asked by the Stray Ferret for further details at the meeting, Mr Flinton said:

“We are looking at whether the private sector is interested in either owning it, partnering with it or becoming more involved in its organisation.

“We will then feed that information into a very difficult political decision Carl and his colleagues will have to take.”

Mr Flinton was referring to Cllr Carl Les, the Conservative leader of North Yorkshire Council, who also attended last night’s gathering.

Carl Les at the meeting.

Shadows grow over centre’s future

The convention centre’s future has become increasingly uncertain.

Harrogate Borough Council awarded construction company BAM a £3.3 million contract in February last year to undertake designs for a £49 million refurbishment even though the funding had not been secured.

Paula Lorimer, the director of the convention centre, warned at the time that Harrogate would ‘wither on the vine’ if the venue closed and suggested the government’s levelling up fund was one possible funding source.

Paula Lorimer

Paula Lorimer

But the levelling up fund has twice since rejected £20 million bids for the convention centre.

Mr Flinton first hinted at a change of approach at a chamber meeting in January last year, before North Yorkshire Council took ownership of the building. He said then it needed to be vibrant and relevant in the face of competition from a new venue in Leeds rather than “an enormous drain on public finances”.

The conference and events venue made a loss in all but three years in the decade from 2010 to 2020 but Harrogate Borough Council said visitors pumped £30 million a year into the local economy.

But last night Mr Flinton said the convention centre required “north of £60 million investment” and that “beholds us to look at all options available”. He added:

“We inherited good thinking and a large maintenance bill on the convention centre from Harrogate Borough Council but not what the private sector would do with it. That feels like the final piece of information.

“We will see how that moves thinking further forward.”


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