After many decades of Bradford’s economic decline, a new ray of hope, for its revival, shone on its atmosphere on 5 November. On this auspicious day, the grand opening of the new Broadway shopping centre, right in the heart of the city, took place. It was undoubtedly a jubilant occasion for Bradfordian’s when thousands of them flocked to the city centre to demonstrate their faith in the future success of the City. The occasion also marked the beginning of a new era for Bradford.
Historically, the site of development, from the days of its conception suffered many obstacles and controversies. The idea for this shopping centre was mooted in 1998 after the Council established its partnership with the private sector including other major stakeholders of the City. Deliberations on further development of this idea continued without any outcome. After completing the demolition of the earmarked area in 2006 the site became a wasteland. Due to unfavourable economic climate, no genuine interest was shown in the redevelopment other than Westfield Constructions. In 210 the Council decided to convert the wasteland to a temporary park.
However during the 2012 by-election of Bradford West, the site became highly politically contentious. It was described as ‘a hole in the centre of Bradford’. It was only after many political altercations, accusations and counter accusations, that eventually the work on the site was resumed in January 2014. It is commendable that Westfield as the major contractors achieved their target and completed the entire project in less than two years.
In the total covered area of 570,000 sq. feet of the centre, there are 73 shops in four malls including 1300 car park spaces. In addition to Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, Next, more than 70 shops, restaurants and cafes of varied kinds will provide services to the local consumers and outside visitors. In the adjacent areas of the centre, the public transport structure and network has been improved. Hopefully the new shopping centre will be able to bring back many of the customers who over the last twenty years or so gradually moved away from Bradford.
Tributes must be paid to the new leadership of the Council for its persistent efforts and hard work to bring this project eventually to fruition. Nevertheless, the Council still has to remain alert and vigilant to combat the possible side effects of this project on the older shopping areas of the City. One of the ways to obviate any adverse side effects could be to invest a portion of the Regional Growth Fund in these areas to incentivise and attract first time starters of small businesses, particularly young entrepreneurs. On the other hand, there is a strong reason for the Broadway with the total investment of just over £260 million to act as a catalyst to attract further new money to the city. We need to be positive and optimistic about the future of our diverse city. One positive and encouraging comment one hears often from outsiders is that Bradford has a lot to offer in the field of diverse cultures and faiths. Sadly up to now, we have failed to cash in for this great asset.
With the vigour and rousing conviction of the City’s young population, supported by a strong leadership and the articulation of a new agenda for social and economic uplift of Bradford, could be the path to leap ahead. More importantly the grandiose project of the Broadway Shopping Centre alone should not be believed to be the panacea for all our economic ills. Persistent arduous efforts are still much needed in reviving investors’ confidence in Bradford as a preferred investment destination.
The author is the former Lord Mayor of Bradford, Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE