Tuesday, 20 March 2012
A playground for people not a showcase for developers - thoughts on Bradford City Centre
I spent a pleasant hour talking to Jim Greenhalgh from the T&A this afternoon. He’d rung me with a question along the lines of: “so how did we end up with Bradford Centre Regeneration?”
The result was that long conversation – we started with Odsal (remember “Superdome”) where I remarked that we had a scheme, it was funded, we’d given it planning permission only for a certain John Prescott to refuse permission because of the proposed Tesco supermarket that made the finances stack up. We got the Tesco – it’s at Great Horton less than a mile away from Odsal – but we never got the new stadium, not even while Gerry Sutcliffe the local MP was Sports Minister.
But the real conversation was about the City Centre. I don’t know what Jim will take from our chat or indeed what he’ll write but these are the things that stood out for me:
1. We need to look at the Alsop masterplan again – not at the teddy bears or the weird architecture but at its essential principle. Alsop gave us an “anti-development” masterplan, something of a reverse field of dreams. Knock down all the 1960s rubbish and replace it with a park. And then see what happens. It took me five or so years to realise just how insightful this vision was – with a future where town centres have to change with our retail habits, this ‘wait and see’ approach now seems very wise.
2. Think more about Bradford’s changing demographic rather than trying to attract a specific trendy middle-class audience. Over the past twenty years, Bradford’s middle-class has become less white – we now have a significant and important Asian middle class and the City Centre needs to reflect their preferences, what entertain them as much as it does the white population in places like Cullingworth. You only have to take a peek at the queues for iPads to understand the significance of this Asian demographic.
3. Take control of our own destiny – for years we’ve wrapped ourselves in complicated developer-led schemes that, with one or two exceptions like Eastbrook Hall and Manningham Mills simply haven’t materialised. The Council needs to take command for once rather than hiding behind other bodies and assorted “special purpose vehicles”. Right now there’s the chance to build on the success of the Council-funded City Park – perhaps working with the Media Museum to complete a wonderful set of developments around that museum, the Alhambra Theatre, the old central library and the former Odeon. And we can put up much of the funding ourselves – Bradford Council has £180 million in reserves and an annual income of over £1.3 billion.
4. Assume there won’t be any “funny money” – for twenty years the City has sat waiting for the generosity of central government or else the good fortune of lottery or other “bids”. This is a regeneration strategy akin to using the 4.30 at Kempton Park as an investment strategy. It might work but the chances are it won’t!
5. Animate the City – spend more on events, on dance, on music, on street markets, on things that bring people into the City. Aim for a situation where Mr & Mrs Bradfordian wake up on a Saturday morning and discuss what to do that day concluding with “let’s go into Bradford, there’s always something on”.
We have been hesitant, over-reliant on private investment and lacking in the understanding needed to implement that masterplan we paid so much for. It wasn’t about developers and development. It wasn’t about retailers and office blocks. It was about a park, about creating a great place for Bradford’s people to promenade, to party and to play in.
Perhaps, after nearly ten years of pretending otherwise, we can get on with delivering that vision of a different kind of City centre. A City centre that’s a playground for people rather than a showcase for developers.