Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Regenerating the Heart of Bradford

Visitors from outside of town when driving through Bradford may have noticed a huge hole in the centre of the city. This is because several buildings were knocked down a few years ago to make way for a new shopping centre which is to be built by Westfield - a leading construction company in this area. Bradford is basically looking to develop a mini-shopping centre like Meadowhall just outside Sheffield or Trafford Centre just outside Manchester, only smaller. There have been difficulties getting enough tenants for the centre and the recession managed to slow things down before they had got started. I would like to call for something completely different.

If we want to revive Bradford's city centre, then we have to ask why would anyone want to shop in Bradford when they can shop online, go to White Rose shopping centre in Leeds, or Leeds city centre itself (with Harvey Nichols etc.), or Meadowhall or Trafford Centre, or Manchester city centre which has come on leaps and bounds as well. Most people that I have spoken to have said that if they want to go shopping then they will visit one of these areas, not a lesser version in Bradford and I can't see how having a couple of the usual tenants (BHS, M and S) would attract a greater proportion of shopping public that is now more mobile and that has the ability to shop from home.

If we want Bradford city centre to work then we have to sell it as an experience, a multicultural experience - in fact, this is why many people from outside of Bradford come to Bradford - to 'have a curry'. Bradford on the street looks very different to what it did in the nineties. Great Horton road, Leeds road, White Abbey road... these roads are alive and one could argue that Bradford has become the eating out capital of the North overtaking Wilmslow road in Manchester of yesteryear. Clothing outlets like Atique Textiles and Bombay Stores have also developed and attract many visitors from outside.

This is where the regeneration chiefs need to make their presence felt - they need to bring these and individual parts of Bradford's economic life into one whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The way to do this is to change the design of the city centre - as is already currently being planned but bring everything into one place: a park at the heart that is surrounded by the leading high street stores, the best Asian restaurants and fast food joints and the best Asian clothing outlets -who knows there may even be some intercultural fusion in this kind of set up so Bombay Stores could start selling goods that are Eastern and Western at the same time. That would be genuinely exciting. I know that the creative flair exists in Bradford to do this, it just needs some creative and decisive leadership from the regeneration wallahs so that they can begin to see a vision in which a family may decide to spend a Saturday afternoon in Bradford where they can pop in to Next and BHS but also stroll through a park to Mumtaz's for lunch before buying some ethnic Westernwear from Bombay Stores on their way home. This could make Bradford stand out from the crowd and draw in numerous customers from outside of the city.