Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Regenerating the Heart of Bradford - Part Two

The New Labour years have come and gone and many cities across the North have been regenerated. Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield all have new city centres. Bradford city centre however remains at a halfway point. Many of the buildings have been knocked down to make room for a new beginning. Westfield has the contract for the shopping centre in the middle of the city but it has been unable to secure the requisite number of shops to start building the shopping centre. The regional development agency which led the regeneration of the city will be closed. And so the city stands at a crossroads, one that will have a major impact on its future.
What kind of shopping centre will be eventually built? As I stated previously if there is nothing different in our shopping centre except that it is a smaller version of other shopping centres in the region then why would customers from outside the city wish to travel to Bradford in order to buy some goods. Ultimately, Bradford will have to offer something else which will attract outsiders to the city. This something different will stand Bradford out as a visiting experience in the North. It will have to compete with the other economies.

This something could be a Westfield project with a difference. Westfield could speak to local businesses such as Mumtaz or Bombay Stores for examples and build a smaller scale shopping centre, perhaps one story, which blends between Western and Asian businesses. Or how about trying to convince Westfield of changing its design? To incorporate the Park and the multicultural design elements in a general way? The Park concept could be extended to cover the current building site and a new design could be adopted which could incorporate the open space, green ethos and multicultural experience aspect. This would be genuinely different and if there was a good level of quality established in terms of the shopping experience then it would be unique across the whole of the North. It would also challenge the current direction of parts of the city centre economy: pound shops and betting shops. Somebody could travel in from outside, park up, walk in to Next, through a park to a Mumtaz, have their lunch and then buy some fusion wear from a rebranded Asian textiles company.

Bradford has seen some really good ideas come and go. The Spice Project which had the backing of the Eden project and the attempts to transfer some of the Eastern collection from the national museums in London to a site in Bradford are both examples of good cultural anchors which if established would with the National Media Museum, the Alhambra and the Bronte Museum make Bradford an excellent place to visit. We just need some people who at this very important time when things are not yet complete who are ready and big enough to have the courage to put something genuinely exciting in the heart of Bradford.