Harrogate Convention Centre will push government to repay 'goodwill' of NHS Nightingale with revamp cash, says leader

Harrogate Convention Centre will push the government to repay the "goodwill" of its use as an NHS Nightingale hospital by contributing to a major refurbishment of the venue, the borough council leader has said.

Wednesday, 26th August 2020, 9:22 am
Updated Wednesday, 26th August 2020, 9:31 am

Coun Richard Cooper said discussions with ministers have already begun over funding for the venue which will remain on standby as the temporary hospital until at least next March.

The NHS has not paid any rent to the council-owned centre which has warned it may not recover from the pandemic without a potential £47m renovation.

Coun Cooper - who is also chairman of the convention centre - said it "stepped up to play a national role" when it was transformed into the Nightingale and government cash should now come from a "variety of sources".

Coun Richard Cooper said discussions with ministers have already begun over funding for Harrogate Convention Centre.

“I know that the government is grateful that Harrogate has, once again, stepped up to play a national role at a critical time," he said.

"Our task is to take that goodwill and convert it to grant funding. We have discussed this with Andrew Jones MP who has also raised the point direct with ministers.

“Funding to redevelop the convention centre will come from a variety of sources – no similar redevelopment has progressed without grant funding of some kind whether from government or from regional development bodies such as Local Enterprise Partnerships or through – as we have requested – the devolution deal currently with government."

Harrogate Borough Council last month agreed to spend £1m on design and project work for the venue which is in "critical need" of the planned upgrades to keep its national appeal.

Plans to rebuild it could involve three exhibition halls being demolished to make way for a new 5,000 sq m hall and a refurbished auditorium.

The council would need about £20m to construct the first phase of redevelopment, with another phase later.

The council had been in talks with the NHS for months over how much longer the site will be needed and it was last week announced it will stay open until at least next March.

However, a review will take place on 1 October to assess the need for the hospital which has not treated a single coronavirus case.

The centre has said it is "vital" to the district's visitor economy and there are fears that keeping it on standby will mean more bad news for hospitality businesses hit hard by the pandemic.

But Coun Cooper said the venue would not be able to reopen anyway with the events industry remaining in lockdown until at least 1 October when the review will be taken.

"It is important to note that right now no venue can run events as they are still prohibited as part of the coronavirus prevention measures the government has introduced," he said.

"Also, most organisers have cancelled events for the remainder of this year because social distancing means they are unviable."

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter