Odsal Stadium, Racecourse Ground projects dealt Levelling Up blows

Images: Bradford Council & Wrexham AFC

Championship rugby league club Bradford Bulls and National League football team Wrexham have pledged to drive forward with their stadium plans after they failed to gain funding support from the Government’s Levelling Up scheme.

More than 100 projects, including The Sage, a new arena and conference centre on Gateshead Quayside, were this week awarded a share of £2.1bn (€2.39bn/$2.6bn) from Round 2 of the Government’s flagship Levelling Up Fund.

The investment intends to benefit millions of people across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland and spread opportunity to historically overlooked areas, but the Bulls and Wrexham projects were among those that had their applications rejected.

Bradford Council in September 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 the 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.

The plans 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 project had sought £50m in Levelling Up funding, but all four bids proposed by the Council were turned down. In response the Bulls said: “It goes without saying that we are disappointed with the decision, but not entirely surprised. It has certainly not diminished our resolve to provide the club, its supporters, and the city with the appropriate modern facility that they are deserving of. 

“This is a setback but categorically not the end of the road. We await formal communication and an explanation from the City of Bradford Metropolitan Council about their proposed next steps in regenerating the South Bradford gateway including the former Richard Dunn Sports Centre and the world famous Odsal Stadium. 

“The only real failure is giving up and we are not about to do that.”

Bradford Council Leader, Susan Hinchcliffe, stated: “Our unfunded Levelling projects are ready to go and we are now looking at all options to see how they can be progressed without this Government support.”

Racecourse Ground

Meanwhile, the Wrexham Gateway project, which includes redevelopment of the Racecourse Ground, was not among the 11 Welsh projects receiving Government funding.

In November, the club was granted permission to construct a new 5,500-capacity stand at its stadium to replace the Kop end. The new stand, which will revert the Racecourse Ground to a four-sided stadium, has been a priority for co-chairmen Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds since they became owners of the club in February 2021.

The club is making a significant contribution towards the new stand after already purchasing the freehold of the Racecourse Ground. However, Levelling Up funding was also sought, which has not proved successful.

Speaking to the club’s official website, executive chairman Humphrey Ker said: “The announcement that the club wouldn’t be receiving any financial support from UK Government to help with the construction of the new Kop stand was received with bitter disappointment by all of us that have worked for 18 months to try and secure the Levelling Up Fund assistance.

“I have seen many and varied responses to the news, from the crowing of rival fans to the understandable disappointment of those who felt, as we did, that this was the fastest way to access the necessary funds in a low-risk fashion.

“I will say, I’ve seen some people turn their ire on Wrexham County Borough Council, but any such anger is entirely misplaced. WCBC have been excellent partners throughout this process, as have Glyndwr University, Welsh Government and the Welsh FA and collectively we remain as committed to the delivery of the new Kop Stand as ever. This decision was made by the UK Government. 

“We have… a Plan B. The Kop will rise again, it will just have to do so via a different method to the one for which we had so long planned.”

The Council had hoped to secure Levelling Up funding for the western side of the Gateway project, which is the Kop stand redevelopment. It also includes groundworks for a hotel, potential conference facilities and car parking.