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‘Very real risk’ convention centre will not survive without £47m upgrades

‘Very real risk’ convention centre will not survive without £47m upgrades

Published by Lisa Darvill with contributions by Local Democracy Reporter Jacob Webster at 11:38am 28th July 2020.

There is a “very real risk” that Harrogate’s financially troubled convention centre will not survive unless a £47million renovation project is approved, it has been warned.

  • Harrogate Borough Council looks set to this week sign off design and project work for the conference venue
  • It's seen its financial position worsen while being used as an NHS Nightingale Hospital
  • A report put to councillors says without investment there is a “very real risk that the venue will not survive”
  • It adds the centre is in “critical need” of upgrades to keep its national appeal 

Harrogate Borough Council looks set to this week sign off design and project work for its ageing conference venue which has seen its financial position worsen while being used as an NHS Nightingale Hospital.

The 40-year-old centre could remain on standby as the temporary hospital until March next year and a report put to councillors says without investment there is a “very real risk that the venue will not survive”.

It adds the convention centre is in “critical need” of upgrades to keep its national appeal and compete with planned venues in Hull and Gateshead.

Harrogate Convention Centre, Hall D
Exhibition Hall D of the convention centre

The rebuild would involve three halls being demolished to make way for a new 5,000 square metre hall, as well as a refurbishment of the venue’s auditorium.

Convention centre director Paula Lorimer said the upgrades would “reinvigorate and re-establish” the venue.

She said: 

"My ambition is for us to return to the top tier of conference and exhibition centres in the UK as we attract new – and bigger – events in the future."

The council would need to find £22million upfront to begin full redevelopment and hopes to find funders to share the costs.

It has also estimated it will need to contribute some cash towards the centre’s £19million long term maintenance costs.

A project manager would also be employed for the redevelopment, costing £155,000 of borrowed cash over three years.

Coun Pat Marsh, leader of the Liberal Democrats on the council, welcomed the plans but criticised the council for an “embarrassing” lack of investment in the past.

She said: 

"If we are to attract more business we can only do it with a facility which offers 21st needs and standards.

"We have no option but support the proposal."

The council has estimated that the venue attracts around 157,000 visitors to the district each year.

It also said the centre has an estimated economic impact of £35million, although this figure had previously been estimated at £55million.

It comes as the council remains locked in talks with the NHS over how much longer the convention centre will be needed as the Nightingale hospital.

The NHS is not paying any rent to the convention centre or the council.

Coun Graham Swift, cabinet member for economic development, said:

"Harrogate Convention Centre makes such an important contribution to the district’s economy.

"Redeveloping the centre will make it a much more flexible space that can attract a broader customer base and will have the potential to substantially increase its economic contribution.

"It will also enable us to create a unique facility we can all be proud of which also attracts new events to Harrogate, the district and North Yorkshire.

"I hope my fellow councillors will support this initial investment that will enable us to get the ball rolling on design and construction plans."

The plans will be discussed at a meeting of the council’s cabinet on Wednesday.