The ongoing saga over the Richard Dunn Sports Centre’s future sparked internal Bradford Council discussions over 'unsustainable' security costs and how to appeal the listing without conflicting with the City of Culture agenda, it has emerged. 

Newly-released documents relating to the disused leisure centre in Odsal shine fresh light on the intense and at times urgent discussions taking place in the corridors of power at City Hall.

A series of emails lay bare just how big a surprise the decision to list the building was, with tenders for its demolition already put out when news of the listed status broke in April 2022.

One email, which also warned of a 28 day window to act, reads: “Dear colleagues, as you are aware Richard Dunn was Grade II listed yesterday.

“It was not only surprising but also goes against the Council's future strategic plans for the site.

"We are therefore mobilising to challenge the decision.”

Another email said: “The Council is extremely anxious to challenge the decision, and would therefore ask you to advise.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

The building, named after the Bradford-born boxer who was famed for fighting Muhammad Ali, was due to be knocked down at the end of 2021.

The centre closed its doors once the nearby Sedbergh Leisure Centre opened. 

But when the DCMS made the decision to list the building, it was given a much greater level of protection from the wrecking ball.

One email from a senior Council figure, marked urgent, looks at the best appeal strategy and says: "If we aggressively pursue a line of Richard Dunn not being of architectural merit, will this be used to undermine the City of Culture bid - will we be seen as trying to demolish a cultural asset?"

Another snippet reads: “The significance defined in the listing is almost entirely focused on the architecture. Not very much is stated about cultural significance, either about use or the name.

“Arguing over whether the architectural merit is justified may be difficult given that the HE have set a precedent by listing other similar modern structures. They listed the former Dome Sport Centre in Bury St. Edmonds last year.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Outside The Richard Dunn Sports CentreOutside The Richard Dunn Sports Centre (Image: Newsquest, Mike Simmonds)

The listing also impacted the Council’s plans to transform the site into a 750 space car park and bus hub for the Bradford South Park and Ride.

In an earlier email about the scheme, one senior member of staff said: “One problem that may occur is that Historic England have received a proposal to list the building.”

Another email was sent for approval on various instructions for designers, including plans to “stop all work on the existing Manchester Road Expressway, other than Croft Street junction design” as well as the “Dunn bus park entry and junction on Manchester Road.”

The Council has since appealed the listing.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: An artist's impression of how the Manchester Road scheme could have lookedAn artist's impression of how the Manchester Road scheme could have looked

More documents, released in a Freedom of Information request by the T&A, show the discussions that had been underway about the potentially 'hazardous' demolition.

One email warned of the risk of death if the process wasn't carried out correctly.

“Demolition of post tensioned concrete beams is a hazard with significant risks,” it read.

“Post-tensioned concrete has steel cable or rod tendons that are under tremendous tension to hold the concrete in compression. Cutting a tendon with a torch or core drill can release a tendon, which could whip around and kill anyone in its path.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Rubbish littered around the Richard Dunn Sports Centre car park and surrounding grounds before a clean up operation in the summer of 2022Rubbish littered around the Richard Dunn Sports Centre car park and surrounding grounds before a clean up operation in the summer of 2022 (Image: UGC)

Another email chain highlights the mounting concern over security at the huge site, with costs hitting £28,000 in one month. 

One email stated intruders had been arriving with battery-powered tools to gain entry in the search for valuable materials.

Another email stated that West Yorkshire Police were told about travellers intimidating the contractors’ security guard after moving onto the site. 

One email from an unnamed local councillor said: “People are continuing to break in to search for materials that are valuable.

“Due to these concerns the residents feel insecure, unsafe and believe they are at risk from these potential burglars.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

A Council spokesperson said the disused sports centre was the most expensive building to operate in the whole of its estate. 

The spokesperson said the demolition was planned as part of wider regeneration plans for the area.

It comes after the Government rejected the Council’s £50 million bid to transform Odsal and the surrounding area as part of the Levelling Up Fund.

The spokesperson added: “Since the building has been listed there has been continual anti-social behaviour on the site, costing the taxpayer significant amounts of money as we do everything possible to secure the site.

“We are now taking stock of our options for the site, which is extremely inefficient to heat and operate and for which no viable use has come forward. 

“We will continue to secure the site against anti-social behaviour as we consider our next steps.”