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Vision laid out for covered Odsal Stadium

Odsal Stadium

Images: Bradford Council

Bradford Council has spelled out plans to transform Odsal Stadium into the largest covered stadium in England, as part of ongoing efforts to revitalise the historic venue.

The reimagined home of Championship rugby league club Bradford Bulls, along with a regional skills centre for the sport, is envisioned to form part of a new complex for elite sports which aims to put the West Yorkshire city back at the heart of the 13-a-side code.

Bradford Council last month spelled out plans to transform Odsal into a new national home for the sport. The plans were outlined as the Council set out a series of “bold and ambitious bids” totalling over £100m (€114.5m/$113.4m) to help ‘Level Up’ the district and deliver a swathe of economic, social and cultural benefits.

The Council is seeking backing from the second round of the UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund, which is designed to invest in infrastructure that improves everyday life across the UK. The £4.8bn fund aims to support town centre and high street regeneration, local transport projects, and cultural and heritage assets.

The plans announced today (Wednesday) would lead to the delivery of a world-class training complex for elite sports in Odsal accompanied by a skills, training and education centre for rugby league and a new 25,000-capacity home for the Bulls, which could host international matches and significant domestic matches such as the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup.

The news, which has been backed by the Rugby Football League (RFL), comes five months after Super League (Europe) signed a 12-year strategic partnership with the IMG agency to reimagine rugby league and its competitions in the UK.

As the largest permanently roofed stadium in England the new venue in Odsal is also intended to become home to boxing events and enable the city to become a home for major music, entertainment and cultural performances, capitalising on the legacy left by Bradford’s successful bid to become UK City of Culture in 2025.

The complex would include a multi-storey car-park, complete with rooftop sports pitches. The complex would also lead to the creation of a new 105-bedroom hotel and five new sports pitches for rugby and football, while also improving the two existing community sports pitches. Energy for the scheme would be provided by a 55,000 sqm solar farm built on-site to provide renewable energy.

The new stadium, and wider complex, would become home to the Bulls and be built on the current Odsal Stadium site, which was erected in the 1930s to rival Wembley as a national home of rugby league.

Bulls chairman Nigel Wood in July revealed that the club was exploring plans to create a new sports city complex around Odsal Stadium. Odsal is considered one of English rugby league’s most historic stadiums but the venue, along with the Bulls, has fallen on hard times in recent years.

The Bulls returned to Odsal in May last year after agreeing an 18-month occupancy deal to play at the venue. Bradford left Odsal in 2019 to groundshare with the Dewsbury Rams amid plans to develop a new home in the Yorkshire city.

Odsal is owned by Bradford Council but the RFL was forced to step in to assume the lease-hold interest in 2012 amid the financial troubles surrounding the Bulls. Odsal first opened in 1933 and famously drew a crowd of 102,569 for the 1954 Challenge Cup final replay between Warrington and Halifax.

The stadium still attracted large crowds as the Bulls enjoyed great success in the 1990s and 2000s. However, the team went into administration in 2012 and was liquidated in 2017, forcing a rebirth in the lower leagues.

The new stadium would retain Odsal’s iconic bowl structure, but be built to modern standards, including a roof, to create the largest permanently-covered venue in England. The complex is subject to the bid to the second round of the government’s Levelling Up Fund, which has two potential awards of £50m for culture-led schemes. Additional funding would come from private- and public-sector partners.

Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader of Bradford Council, said: “Independent analysis has shown that Bradford is the country’s number one levelling up opportunity and these ambitious plans build on our long-term strategy to harness the power of sport and culture to level up our great city district and drive economic growth.

“Rugby league was created to help level up the north of England by enabling working class players to be compensated for taking time off work to play rugby. Rugby league is woven into the fabric of Bradford and the north of England.

“By building a regional skills centre and the largest permanently covered stadium in the country, we can harness the power of rugby league to level up again by creating well-paid careers and jobs for thousands of young men and women in Bradford and across Yorkshire and the North East.

“Bradford can create a home for rugby league which reflects the status of both the sport and the city, and which will generate almost £1bn in economic benefits for the people of Bradford over a decade. We are committed to working with the RFL to deliver a sport and training facility which provides skills and generates job opportunities for young people in Bradford and beyond.”

Tony Sutton, chief operating officer at the RFL, added: “Bradford has a rich history in rugby league as home to former Super League and World Club champions and an iconic stadium which delivered our sport’s largest ever attendance – a crowd of more than 100,000 people watching this great sport. This world-class complex would put Britain’s sixth-largest city back at the heart of British sport.

“The skills, educational and training centre would be a focal point for education – allowing youngsters to work side-by-side with national team squads and match officials, helping to drive up aspiration and achievement in Bradford and across Yorkshire and the North East.”