Rugby Union: ‘Re-engagement’ key to Harrogate Rudding Lane move

121214 James Smithies the Chairman of Harrogate Rugby Union Club next to their new clubhouse at their new ground on Rudding Park Lane in Harrogate. (GL1004/36a)
121214 James Smithies the Chairman of Harrogate Rugby Union Club next to their new clubhouse at their new ground on Rudding Park Lane in Harrogate. (GL1004/36a)

Re-engaging with the community will be Harrogate rugby club’s main challenge when moving to their new £3million ground, according to chairman James Smithies.

Harrogate’s move to Rudding Lane has been delayed until March due to some unavoidable electrical issues at the ground and the state of its pitches.

But after a “frustrating” 15-year wait for a move away from Claro Road, Smithies is just glad the end is in sight.

It is now his aim to bring old faces back through the doors and complete Gate’s return as a club of the community.

Smithies, whose son Ed represented Gate for 13 years, said: “We need Harrogate to engage and we want them with us to get involved with the whole new era at Rudding Lane.

“We have to get people in the town to understand it’s not what we’re doing, it’s why we are doing it.

“We are trying to get young players to come through and to create a facility that can be used off the field as well as on it.”

Doubts remain on when Harrogate will move away from Claro Road, with a provisional January goal put back to March at the earliest.

Harrogate’s bosses are targeting the match against table topping Hull Ionians on March 15. But, with only one more home game following (against Luctonians on April 18) , Gate could remain at Claro Road until next season.

Building firm Redrow has acquired Claro Road from Crest Nicholson ahead of the plan to erect 126 homes on the land. But Smithies said pressure Harrogate would withstand pressure to move from the firms until Rudding Lane was ready.

He said: “Red Rowe are extremely keen to get moving. Both them and Crest are confident that they would have permission in order to start work on the site by the end of February.

“We are not that convinced. We are in dialogue with Crest to resolve that situation. It’s all very amicable and positive at the moment.

“They are not trying to move us quickly and they are certainly not holding a gun to our head.”

There is also uncertainty over the future of Harrogate Pythons – who have split off from the Harrogate club but still play at Claro Road.

Tensions remain between the clubs off the field, and the Pythons had planned a vote of no confidence against Smithies earlier this year before withdrawing it.

Smithies said the Pythons had been invited to share the new ground but the annual fee to Harrogate would rise by almost 40 per cent – from £10,300 to £14,300.

The 27-acre Rudding Lane ground will have four full size rugby pitches and three junior pitches. The chairman confirmed talks were being held with a cricket club and other sports’ clubs to use the rest of the space.

Smithies added: “There’s a large enough area for a cricket pitch but we would also like to engage with the runners and the cyclists.

“We need to create income throughout the year rather than purely through rugby.”