Pressure is growing on Kirklees Council to intervene in the long-running saga of Huddersfield’s iconic George Hotel.
It follows the creation of an online petition, now signed by more than 3,800 people, calling for the building to saved from further deterioration.
Set up in January this year, the petition calls on the council to use statutory powers to “seize” the building from its current owner, Dr Altaf Hussain, and to invest in it in the run-up to the Rugby League World Cup in the autumn of 2021.
The George was the birthplace of rugby league in 1895.
Dr Hussain submitted new plans in early May. They involve bringing the George back into use as an apart hotel, with associated kitchen, bar and meeting facilities as well as conversion of the basement to form a spa facility.
Lindley resident Gerry Quinn, who started the petition, wants to see the property on St George’s Square restored in advance of the John Smith’s Stadium hosting a world cup quarter-final match.
But in a statement read to councillors in Huddersfield Town Hall on his behalf by Clr Cahal Burke (Lib Dem, Lindley), he said some imagination was required to bring the hotel back to life.
And the retired teacher urged caution over turning the Grade II* listed building into more student accommodation.
Senior Labour councillor Peter McBride (Lab, Dalton) reiterated previous comments that the council “cannot simply compulsorily purchase” the site and that if it was to do so the process would be a long one.
He urged patience and prudence and said the council had talked with major hotel chains to seek a solution.
“To acquire a building requires a major investment and, most importantly, an end user.
“[The hotel chains] do not see a role to simply replace what is there from a hotel point of view.
“We are critically aware how significant the George is. It’s an iconic building within the town. It’s hugely important. We are really concerned that that building is developed.
“But we haven’t got a sledgehammer to be able to resolve the problem. We’ve got to handle the situation carefully. It’s gone on and on and we are frustrated.
“We await events and we will attempt where we can to make the appropriate intervention.”
The Conservatives’ Clr Richard Smith (Kirkburton) said the landmark building had been in decline since it was purchased by Dr Hussain in 2013.
“We can’t just sit back.
“The council needs to have some kind of a strategy to deal with this.
“There is a criteria for compulsorily purchasing listed buildings [that says] it must be shown that the owner is unwilling or unable to carry out repairs.
“And it speaks about the market value for compensation and a minimum market value should it be thought of by the council that the owner is deliberately letting it run down into disrepair so he can knock it down and redevelop it.”
Clr Andrew Cooper (Green, Newsome) said it was “a crying shame” that the increasingly dilapidated and empty hotel faced onto a major public area that hosts events such as the Huddersfield Food and Drink Festival.
He said purchasing the hotel required a business plan from the council and suggested a link with both the University of Huddersfield and Kirklees College to drive such a notion forward.