SPECIAL REPORT - £10m upgrade for Great Yorkshire Showground hall

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An ambitious £10m plan to rebuild part of the Great Yorkshire Showground – and make Harrogate the events capital of the country – has been unveiled.

The Yorkshire Agricultural Society (YAS) plans to demolish and rebuild one of its two major exhibition centres.

The current Hall 1, built in the 1960s and part of the Yorkshire Events Centre, is a key element at the Great Yorkshire Show and is also used for Countryside Live and autumn and spring flower shows.

But, say the owners, it is no longer “fit for purpose” and they must invest – and modernise – if it is to compete for events and trade fairs. “This is the biggest thing the society has done since it bought this site in 1949,” said Heather Parry, YAS deputy chief executive.

“The Great Yorkshire Show is the country’s premier agricultural show. It’s important we have facilities to match.”

The YAS, working with the Harrogate International Centre (HIC), says the investment is an opportunity to further secure the town’s future as the country’s conference capital.

“The impact will be significant,” said Miss Parry. “We can make Harrogate the events town of the country.”

The designs, drawn up by the same architects who created the £3.6m Fodder cafe in 2009, would see Hall 1 demolished to make way for a taller and wider building.

Funded with a mix of loans and reserves, it would measure nearly 1,000sqm larger and be high enough to accommodate showjumping.

This new hall would also house a new state-of-the-art cafe, toilets, meeting rooms and a reception area wide enough for 400 people.

“It’s a replacement hall but we’re hoping to make it a bit more sexy, a bit more modern,” said Miss Parry.

Neighbours have already been consulted on the plans.

The society has had letters of support from 19 guesthouses, hotels and businesses.

l A planning application is to be submitted to Harrogate Borough Council tomorrow.

l If approved, work would begin immediately after the Great Yorkshire Show 2015, to be completed before the opening of the 2016 show.

THE PLANS

The Yorkshire Agricultural Society (YAS), owners of the Yorkshire Event Centre and Great Yorkshire Showground, is to submit plans this week to rebuild one of its two exhibition centres.

The £10m scheme would see the current 1960s-style Hall 1 bulldozed to make way for a larger state-of-the-art exhibition centre, cafe, toilets, meeting and reception rooms.

It would be the single biggest investment in the society’s history, said organisers, putting the town’s facilities - with the help of the Harrogate International Centre (HIC) - firmly on the map.

“Harrogate is such a centre for conferences and exhibitions,” said Heather Parry, YAS deputy chief executive.

“This will help us attract bigger, better events, and the benefit will be felt across the town.”

The plans, to be submitted to Harrogate Borough Council tomorrow (Friday) for consideration, will reveal an extra 1,000sqm of space in the new exhibition hall.

This is after a survey in 2011 found that Hall 1, with leaking gutters, damp masonry, and cracks to rafters and floor slabs, was no longer fit for purpose.

“It was built in the 1960s, and expected to last 20 years,” said Miss Parry. “At the time it was cutting edge. Now, it’s coming to the end of its ‘design life’.

“We want to knock it down and create something bigger and better.”

The plans have been drawn up by P+HS Architects, which also designed the £3.6m award-winning Fodder site and the Regional Agricultural Centre in 2009.

The designs would be sympathetic in nature, said Miss Parry, using natural products sourced locally where possible.

The walls - extended over the existing stand area - would be fronted with a mix of copper, glass, and dry-stone walling, while the centre would be topped with a curved roof.

The new design will allow for more light to be let into the building, the plans reveal. The ceilings would be higher, to accommodate agricultural and machinery shows as well as space for overhead TV cameras as the society hopes to attract more sporting events.

Events like showjumping could also move to the new building, Miss Parry revealed, while a new cafe would provide welcome relief for the existing one which is “under siege” at busy times.

“It’s modern, but hopefully in keeping with its surroundings,” she said, adding that a lot of thought - and years of planning - had gone into the proposals.

And the investment, she said, will make a huge difference to Harrogate’s economy.

“Ten million pounds is a significant sum,” said Miss Parry.

“It is the single greatest and most significant project we have undertaken - and a huge vote of confidence in Harrogate as being the conference capital it can be.”

HIC and YEC - competitive or complementary?

Debate has sprung up about whether the investment would help or hinder Harrogate International Centre’s (HIC) own conference offering in the town.

Both the Yorkshire Event Centre (YEC) and the HIC host conferences, exhibitions and events throughout the year. But, says the society, their markets are distinctly different.

“We work very closely with HIC,” said Miss Parry. “It’s not competitive at all. In actual fact there’s only been four events that have swapped from one site to the other over the years.”

An independent report commissioned by Harrogate Borough Council (HBC), found the two events centres operated in largely different segments and generally did not compete.

The differences between the two sites were distinct, it said, with the YEC more engineered towards exhibitions while the HIC hosted six times more conferences in 2013.

Even with the proposed new development, the HIC would still have three times more space than the YEC, the report said, concluding that investment would have a “limited” impact.

“Please be assured that we do not want to damage the HIC business in any way,” said Miss Parry. “We are absolutely complimentary. And by working together we can make Harrogate the events town of the country.”

COMMENTS

19 different organisations have written letters to back the plans.

Brian Dunsby, chief executive of the Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce, said he believes the HIC and showground facilities are complementary and not competitive venues: “Each venue has unique advantages which together enhance the appeal of Harrogate as an ideal venue. We agree with the society’s aim to make Harrogate the best and most dynamic events town there is in the country.”

Simon Mackaness, chairman of Rudding Park Hotel, said: “Upgraded facilities will attract a greater range of event organisers. The present ‘flower hall’ has passed its sell-by date. The proposal is to be commended as a modern building with in-built services and facilities. Rudding Park fully supports this planning application and feel that it will be a very real benefit to the local economy.”

Simon Cotton, general manager of the Cedar Court Hotel, said he welcomed such investment, particularly in these tough economic times: “Over the years, the hotel has benefitted considerably from visitors to events at the YEC and showground and I would be delighted to see it enhancing its offering. The plans to make Harrogate the best and most dynamic events town there is in the country should be encouraged and supported by all.”

David Ritson, general manager of The Old Swan Hotel and chairman of Destination Harrogate, added his formal support to the plans: “We welcome any development which encourages new business in to the district and also which will help retain the business they currently have. We believe that these plans certainly meet this criteria.”

Sandra Doherty, chairman of Accommodation Harrogate, said: “It is important to invest in up to date facilities both to retain customers and to attract new ones. Harrogate relies on visitors both business and pleasure who come to the many events hosted here and I am sure we will all benefit from the investment and dedication to providing an excellent new building.”

FACTS AND FIGURES

l The existing Hall 1, build in the 1960s, was expected to last 20 years.

l The new hall, if approved, would be slightly shorter, at 114.5m long. But it would be wider and taller, with nearly 1,000sqm more floor space.

l It would cost £10m to build, and work would begin immediately after the Great Yorkshire Show 2015. It would be opened before the show in 2016.

l While work was ongoing, temporary structures would be put up to accommodate events and exhibitions.

l The total economic impact of activities at the Great Yorkshire Showground on the Harrogate district is estimated at £47m.

l The Great Yorkshire Showground attracts 422,695 visitors every year, hosting 582 event days.

l The Great Yorkshire Show attracts 135,000 visitors.

l Events at the site attract c10,000 exhibitors and 41,000 people manning stands.

l Visitors to the site, the exhibitors, their staff, and the stand construction crews account for in excess of 200,000 overnight stays in the Yorkshire area - of which 90 per cent are estimated to be in the Harrogate district.

l The showground’s proximity to the town helps fill more than 10 per cent of the bed spaces in Harrogate every year.