Bradford Council has unveiled plans to build a regional skills centre for Rugby League and the largest covered stadium in England as part of a new complex for elite sports which would put the city back at the heart of the thirteen-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 Bradford Bulls, which could host international matches and significant domestic matches such as the semi-finals of The Betfred Challenge Cup.
The news comes five months after Super League (Europe) signed a 12-year strategic partnership with IMG – a global leader in sports events, media and fashion – to reimagine Rugby League and its competitions in the UK.
The scheme has been announced with just weeks to go until the start of the Rugby League World Cup, an event which will bring the world’s greatest players to England for the Men’s, Women’s and Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup finals.
The new skills and training facility – built in conjunction with the Rugby Football League as part of its national OuRLeague Life programme – would be shared by elite players, match officials, and young people and adults from across Yorkshire and the North East. It would complement a similar project planned in Manchester.
As the largest permanently roofed stadium in England the new venue in Odsal would also become home to other nationally significant sporting such as boxing and enable the city to become a home for major music, entertainment and cultural performances, capitalising on the legacy which will be left by Bradford’s successful bid to become UK City of Culture in 2025.
The complex would include a multi-storey car-park, complete with rooftop sports pitches. The car-park would be linked to a park and ride that can dramatically cut congestion and emissions by providing shuttle services for the new sports stadium in Odsal and motorists driving in to Bradford from the M62.
The complex would also lead to the creation of a new 105-bedroom hotel and five new sports pitches for rugby and football, while also improving the two existing community sports pitches. Energy for the scheme would be provided by a 55,000 sqm solar farm built on-site to provide renewable energy.
Independent economic analysis estimates that the new sports complex would attract more than 1.25m visitors a year, more than half of which would be outside Bradford, and lead to £625m visitor spend and more than £1bn of socio economic benefits for Bradford district.
The stadium and elite sports complex would also create 480 full time jobs over a decade.
The new stadium, and wider complex, would become home to Bradford Bulls and be built on the current Odsal stadium site, which was erected in the 1930s to rival Wembley as a national home of Rugby League.
Both The RFL and Bradford Council believe the sport has huge latent potential in the city of Bradford, as well as across Yorkshire and the North East, nationally and internationally.
Odsal stadium still holds the record for attendance for a rugby match in the UK, with more than 102,000 officially attending the 1954 Rugby League Challenge Cup final replay and an estimated audience of more than 120,000.
The Bradford Bulls were the country’s leading club in the early 2000s, winning Super League three times in five seasons between 2001 and 2005 and becoming World Club Champions three times between 2002 and 2006.
The club went into liquidation in 2017, before being resurrected, and currently remain outside the top flight having played a season away from Odsal in 2019.
The new stadium would retain Odsal’s iconic bowl structure but be built to modern standards, including a roof, to create the largest permanently-covered venue in England.
The complex is part of Bradford Council’s long-term strategy of harnessing the power of culture – including sport – to be an economic driver of clean, inclusive economic growth.
Bradford Live, a 4,800-capacity NEC-run venue, is already due to open in the city centre next year, the National Science and Media Museum is getting new gallery space, and a number of major investments are expected as part of Bradford’s City of Culture celebrations in 2025.
Odsal is in Bradford South, which currently ranks bottom out of all English constituencies for school-age social mobility. Some 34% of under 19s live in relative low-income families.
The council believes a new centre of excellence for Rugby League provides a once in a generation opportunity to break the cycle of poverty by investing in the future of this community and creating an outstanding venue that the whole district can be proud of and benefit from.
The complex is subject to a bid to the second round of the government’s Levelling Up Fund, which has two potential awards of £50million for culture-led schemes. Additional funding would come from private- and public-sector partners.
Independent analysis of the largest 34 towns and cities in England by Etopia Homes has identified Bradford as the UK’s number one levelling-up opportunity, in terms of both need and economic potential.
Culture and sport are seen as major economic opportunities in Bradford – which has one of the youngest and most dynamic populations in the UK, but like many northern cities suffers from a skills deficit.
Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, leader of Bradford Council, said: “Independent analysis has shown that Bradford is the country’s number one levelling up opportunity and these ambitious plans build on our long-term strategy to harness the power of sport and culture to level up our great city district and drive economic growth.
“Rugby League was created to help level up the north of England by enabling working class players to be compensated for taking time off work to play rugby.
“Rugby League is woven into the fabric of Bradford and the north of England. By building a regional skills centre and the largest permanently covered stadium in the country, we can harness the power of Rugby League to level up again by creating well-paid careers and jobs for thousands of young men and women in Bradford and across Yorkshire and the North East.
“Bradford can create a home for Rugby League which reflects the status of both the sport and the city, and which will generate almost £1bn in economic benefits for the people of Bradford over a decade. We are committed to working with the RFL to deliver a sport and training facility which provides skills and generates job opportunities for young people in Bradford and beyond.”
Tony Sutton, chief operating officer at the Rugby Football League, said: “The birth of Rugby League perfectly embodies this Government’s mission to level up the country.
“The entire reason our game began was to level up opportunities for people in the north by compensating them for playing the sport they love.
“Rugby League is more than just a game – it creates opportunity, much needed employment and brings real social, economic and health benefits to communities. Rugby League can again help to level up by creating jobs and opportunities for people across the north. What we need Government help with is creating grass roots opportunities for people to play the game and build their careers.
“Bradford has a rich history in Rugby League as home to former Super League and World Club champions and an iconic stadium which delivered our sport’s largest ever attendance – a crowd of more than 100,000 people watching this great sport. This world-class complex would put Britain’s sixth-largest city back at the heart of British sport.
“The skills, educational and training centre would be a focal point for education – allowing youngsters to work side-by-side with national team squads and match officials, helping to drive up aspiration and achievement in Bradford and across Yorkshire and the North East.”
Bradford Bulls chairman, Nigel Wood OBE, said: “We are extremely impressed by and applaud the scale of the ambition for Odsal Stadium and its immediate surroundings, conceived by our civic leaders and the RFL.
“It is to be particularly welcomed and commended that there is a very strong educational and training dimension to the scheme, an aspect with fits perfectly into our club’s aspiration to be a good corporate citizen, providing training, skills, welfare, opportunity and employment for our community beyond simply being a great rugby league social enterprise.”
Judith Cummins, Labour MP for Bradford South and chair of the All Party Rugby League Group in parliament, said: “I have always been vocal in my belief that sport is one of Bradford’s greatest cultural assets and I have seen first-hand how sport changes lives and unites people.
“The people of Bradford are passionate about sport and Rugby League so this represents a major opportunity for the city. The ambitious plans that I have been shown will bring increased prosperity, skills, and job opportunities through regeneration of this vital part of south Bradford.
“The extra £1bn that this new complex would create would have a transformational effect on the whole city, which has been identified by an independent study as the UK’s leading ‘levelling up’ opportunity.
“By weaving together top-level sport and entertainment with a world-class skills and training base, this proposal offers the perfect example of how sport and culture can be used as a lever to create new economic growth and opportunity in the communities that need, and deserve, it most.”