Sunday 17 February 2019

Rewilding the city - greening Bradford's dereliction

Today they blew up Jacob's Well. Another ugly concrete lump is removed from the skyline of Bradford following in the unmissed footsteps of the National & Provincial Building and soon to be joined by some equally foul tower blocks running up Manchester Road out from the city centre. Elsewhere in the city centre there are plans to demolish the Oastler Centre and the now empty Morrisons Supermarket attached to this market. After a tragic fire, Drummond Mills a short walk from here has been cleared leaving behind another few acres of open land. Add in land at Leeds Road, at Barkerend roundabout and alongside the former Forster Square station yard (now featuring a bunch of retail sheds). What we have is a huge amount of land, supposedly for development. The problem is that everyone knows that this development isn't going to happen because most of the land has no - or even negative - value. Even a site at Fairweather Green, halfway to popular Thornton village remains derelict because the cost of remediation, highways and related infrastructure makes building houses there impossible without subsidy.

Meanwhile developers are frustrated at the lack of development sites in places where building houses on a speculative basis is possible. Vast swathes of unproductive and not especially attractive open land sit languishing within the 'green belt' safe from the hands of those developers. And this is despite the fact that other protections ranging from special landscape area designations through conservation areas to habitat protection zones and areas of outstanding beauty (to mention just a few) provide strong planning protections for the attractive, the ecologically-important and the historically significant.

So what to do? What we're doing now doesn't seem to be working. The council is stuck in the mentality that if you bung in some up-front subsidy it will somehow transform how the market behaves - despite the evidence from just about everywhere that this doesn't work. We can add that the council is also lumping most of its eggs in the basket of a high speed rail line that, right now, is unlikely to be built and, even if it is, may not have a stop in Bradford. I'm being slightly unkind here as the Council has some strong ideas around skills and education that are beginning to bear fruit. But the development point is still important - that anti-development masterplan of Will Alsop's still presents the best hope for a transformative approach to Bradford's inner city.

Which means we should green the city - rewild it even. Instead of trying to find a developer to build another ugly square box on the Jacob's Well site (that we'll have to knock down in 25 years), lets turn it into an orchard, get some beehives, plants some trees - rewild the centre. And let's do the same for all those other empty, derelict and unattractive sites that litter the centre of our city - instead of growing houses that we don't really need (at least if the house prices are a guide to demand - which they usually are) lets grow trees, have allotments, perhaps a duck pond, maybe a maze for kids to get lost in.

Instead of building houses on that Drummond Mills site and the other big clear sites in Manningham, let's cut and cover - putting car parking underneath parks, recreation and open space. And then let's gate off all those narrow terraced streets nearby to provide safe outside space for the families in those homes. Let's set a target of pedestrianising half of our inner city terraced streets - we'll see the great benefit of fewer kids run over and lots fewer young folk with asthma. I know there'll be people - mostly men - who'll moan about not being able to park their car in the living room but the world is changing and Bradford can be ready for a society where car ownership isn't an assumed status and where driverless cars, buses and taxis provide safer transport for all.

Imagine the difference if, in twenty years time, flying over the city means looking down onto woodland, park, orchard and meadow rather than urban decay and crammed, amenity-free housing developments rejected by the better off and dominated by social housing and the private landlord.

Let's say this will cost £100 million to do (that's not a quotation just a convenient round figure). Where does the money come from? If I told you that Bradford Council already has plans to borrow £80 million for regeneration - only part of this on a spend-to-save or income generating basis - you'll see that this is possible. A one-off 5% increase in Council Tax would provide enough revenue to fund the programme and this is without looking to other possible funding sources from the Environment Agency's flood mitigation funding through funds for air quality improvement to a vast range of private and charitable sources. And then there's income - maybe from that car parking, perhaps from users of the new open spaces. We can do it - and make Bradford a better, healthier and, above all, different place. Wouldn't that be worth the risk?



Anonymous said...

Filled in your Green Party membership form yet?

That fanciful 5% Council Tax surcharge would only be paid by the folk who actually pay their Council Tax, and they're the ones who live way outside the city centre and are, to put it mildly, completely pissed off with all their hard-earned contributions only ever being spent on those who don't pay, whilst the outer cash-cow suburbs get less and less all the time.

You've obviously forgotten the first rule of politics - make sure you reward those who'll vote for your party: in your party's case, that's never the inner city folk. You'll soon be on Jeremy Corbyn's Christmas card list!

Curmudgeon said...

Nope, people want to park their cars as close to their front door as possible, and certainly with eyesight. Communal parking has been tried and failed - it is an open invitation to theft and vandalism.