John Smith’s Stadium future to be addressed amid administration fears

Image: Rob Ridley

The long-term future of John Smith’s Stadium, home of Championship football club Huddersfield Town and Super League rugby league team Huddersfield Giants, is to be discussed at a meeting next week amid concerns the venue’s operator could fall into administration.

Kirklees Council will hold a meeting on December 21, with councillors asked to explore a new ownership structure for John Smith’s Stadium. Since it opened in 1993, the 24,121-capacity stadium has been managed by Kirklees Stadium Development Limited (KSDL), with shares held in the company held by the Council (40%), along with Town (40%) and the Giants (20%).

In recent years, KSDL has faced challenging trading conditions and partners have been in discussions about putting the stadium on a firmer financial footing. A recommendation to the Council Cabinet proposes that a new ownership model – where the Council transfers its stake to the clubs – could bring much needed investment to the facility as well as give the stadium a more sustainable business model for the future. In any of the proposed scenarios, the Council would retain ownership of the stadium site.

In April, Town chief executive Dean Hoyle revealed that the football club was in negotiations with the Council and Giants over the long-term ownership structure of John Smith’s Stadium. The Huddersfield Examiner newspaper has now reported that the stadium requires between £8m (€9.1m/$9.7m) and £10m worth of renovations over the next 10 years to address a “backlog” of maintenance issues. This is designed to extend the stadium’s life until 2050, but the majority of work is required to be completed over five years.

Cash-strapped Kirklees Council in March backed the formation of a Community Trust to provide a £13m bail out for KSDL. However, Town didn’t agree to the proposal and it ultimately collapsed. KSDL is now said to be experiencing “severe cash flow difficulties” that have been exacerbated by increasing energy costs.

Five options are said to be on the table with the preferred one, as recommended in a report to the Council’s Cabinet, being that Town becomes a long-term leaseholder of the stadium with the Council retaining ownership of the site.

Cllr Graham Turner, regeneration portfolio holder, said: “I am fully supportive of the recommendations contained in this report. KSDL has been an important part of the development of the stadium site and has over the years served the residents of Kirklees well.

“However, what was right all those years ago when KSDL was set up is now not the right way to operate the stadium complex and a different operating model should be adopted. This report sets out the preferred option and I am sure that the proposals to negotiate with the football club to become a long-term lease holder will help secure the stadium and allow it to develop and flourish in the coming years.”

In a joint statement, the Council, Huddersfield Town and Huddersfield Giants, added: “The stadium is at the heart of our community. Our clubs mean so much to people across Huddersfield and well beyond. But if the stadium is going to serve the community for the future, it needs investment and a financial platform that’s sustainable in the long term.

“All partners are working closely together to find a way forward that suits everyone, especially supporters and future generations of fans. There’s a lot of detailed and complex issues to consider and a range of options open to us. But all partners are committed to maintaining the stadium as the heart and soul of Huddersfield’s sporting heritage.”