Monday, 10 December 2012

Oh Manchester (Road), so much to answer for

Like thousands of people Manchester Road forms part of my journey to and from work. Every morning and evening I travel down it on the bus and I just don't really think about it. It is a big road into the city and it does its job in getting people in and out of it. This evening I got off the bus at the junction with Mayo Avenue and Smiddles Lane, or Mayo and Smiddles if we're being a bit American, but that sounds like a really bad name for a pair of cats. I got off the bus with objective of walking to Lidl, which I did.

Walking down to Lidl I really noticed the mishmash of mainly low density buildings, that don't really relate to the road at all. The road does have shops, banks and takeaways on the west side of it, which indicate that the road has some community role rather than severing communities, but other than that it is largely a big bleak blank bland road which doesn't form a good welcome to the city. There are landmarks, like the new walking and cycling bridge. Whilst the bridge forms an important part of the local walking and cycling network, I can't help but feel it reinforces the separation between the pedestrian and motorvehicle, as do the many railings (as seen below). The road was designed as an urban motorway, but in reality is a road cutting through densely populated neighbourhoods with a speed limit of 30 mph.
Bus Lane
In the next thirty years, there could be many opportunities to improve this road. The vacant sites and low density development could be replaced by high density development that better encloses the road. The redevelopment of the Odsal Top area to make more efficient use of the space currently occupied by the Richard Dunn centre, redevelop the stadium and remove the roundabout and its piss-soaked subways is another. Replacing the disjointed guided busway with an urban rail system that can connect South Bradford better to the rest of the West Yorkshire conurbation and linking the whole road together with greenspace and trees, so it doesn't look so damn bleak. The Aspire development seeks to introduce some development fronting on to the street, which is a welcome start. The below picture of Avinguda Diagonal in Barcelona is the kind of grand urban boulevard we could learn from, with the typical weather too.
Avinguda Diagonal | Nieve en Barcelona
 Making better use of Manchester Road could accommodate a lot of the development needed in Bradford over the next few decades. These thoughts emerged as I walked towards a single-storey shed set back from the road. We can do better!
Lidl Bradford

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Garden of Light - something bigger or better?

The Garden of Light this week has presented a welcoming atmosphere in the city centre, with lots of people including families spending time around City Park, perhaps less so in the drizzle tonight.

As I was walking through the city tonight I considered what it could be like if the Garden of Light was extended. Here are a few ideas of how the Garden of Light could be the centre of something bigger, or indeed just some kind of city centre festival that could take place:
1) Co-ordinate with an evening or two of late opening at the Media Museum, Impressions Gallery, Peace Museum and others.
2) Introduce 'pop up' exhibitions / cafés for the duration of the garden of light in empty shops.
3) Light up large empty buildings like High Point or the former Police station.
4) Seek to have a programme of live music in a range of venues, from established live music venues, and also unusual venues like historic buildings.
5) A city centre ale trail - visit participating venues (could be about six) for a pint in the two weeks and get a free glass.
6) Well publicised special offers at the city centre restaurants over the the duration of the event.

Just a few I thought of on my short walk... any more?
Bradford Garden of Light

Thursday, 20 September 2012

We Are Leeds?

The other night I put a question to twitter:
The 'Leeds City Region' - good for Bradford, bad for Bradford or makes no difference?”

I received responses to this question from @simonmagus (who went on to write a blog on the subject), @them_apples, @adamhepton, @bradfordodeon, @hiddenbradford, @bd_angry and @poddi.

The main points seemed to be:
  • Bradford is not in Leeds
  • Does the Leeds 'brand' overshadow that of the rest of Yorkshire?
  • More joined up thinking
  • Good if it brings more money into Bradford
  • Yorkshire means something to everyone in the city region, Leeds doesn't

So, what is a city region?

A city region is a grouping of local authorities who work together to make decisions on big projects, like transport and to bring together the public and private sector to work together to deliver regeneration projects and pursue economic growth. City regions first formally appeared in Northern England as a result of John Prescott's baby 'The Northern Way'. The idea of this initiative was to seek to reduce the gap between Northern England and the south east, and for England to have successful cities outside of the capital – like Toulouse in France, Munich in Germany or Milan in Italy. The demise of regional governance brought in by the coalition government has lead to city regions getting more power in the form of the 'city deal'.

Where is Leeds City Region?

The City Region covers the local authories of West Yorkshire (Leeds, Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield), as well as Selby, York, Harrogate, Craven and Barnsley. Barnsley also sits within the Sheffield city region. There is a strong view from people in Bradford that they are not Leeds. One imagines that people in somewhere like Masham (Harrogate District), Ingleton (Craven) or Walsden (Calderdale) would feel the same, or people in the ancient city of York.
York Minster

Would West Yorkshire City Region be a better name?

West Yorkshire, as we've known it since 1974 includes the five districts that make up the old Metropolitan County, but doesn't include districts like Harrogate. But all the places in the Leeds City Region were historically part of the West Riding of Yorkshire and I'm sure the residents of all the area could identify with being in Yorkshire and not Leeds.

Is the Leeds thing just a name?

Investment in the city region will be bringing things like superfast broadband to Bradford, supporting the and a billion pounds to be spent on transport and highways across the city region area. But Leeds is getting the Trolleybus scheme and the enterprise zone in the east of the city. Leeds is of course the biggest city, with the biggest economy out of all the districts, but one could be forgiven that the Leeds name, is mainly a positive thing for Leeds but not the other nine districts.
The 72 To Leeds

How does the Leeds-Bradford relationship compare with those in other city regions?

Bradford – with a population of half a million is by far the biggest 'junior partner' in all of the Northern England city regions, not to mention there are five cities in the Leeds City region (Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Ripon and York). This compares to two cities in Manchester city region and two in the Tyne/Wear city region and one or none in the others. The Leeds City Region seems to be a much bigger area than the other ones, the City Region website boasts it is the second biggest city region outside of the capital. Leeds does not sit seem to sit comfortably at the centre of a city region like Sheffield or Manchester do... and I wonder how many Mackems would be happy at being part of the Newcastle city region. I think West Yorkshire is the way to go on this one!

So the answer to the question is:
The city region itself is not a bad thing, it helps bring money into the city of Bradford. It is just the name, that
a) it makes it a harder thing to sell to local businesses
b) it diminishes the pride of Bradford, as well as Wakefield and York, and;
c) Potentially helps reinforce the gap between the Leeds economy and the rest, rather than helping the rest catch up and helping the local area as a whole capture more growth.

I don't think its a parochial thing to stand up for the city the size of Bradford. I think there is a far more compelling argument for the Leeds city region to have a name reflecting a wider area, than the likes of Manchester or Liverpool. 

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

You're not going to like this

I was going to go into full rant mode, but basically:
Was in London for Olympics at the weekend, was brilliant
Stark contrast with Bradford, i.e. how quiet this city is and lack of investment in comparison
Still no real news on Westfield
Seen two fights in 20 hours outside my flat, as well as seeing alcoholics all over the shop
Economy is in double dip recession
Government not committing any money to anything

We know it has potential, hell, we really know this. We know that there are some reasons to be positive, it is not all negative. But there are a lot of negative things that needs addressing.

How is this going to happen?  Give me hope someone!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Get Bradford Working

The Council have announced a £7.7m scheme, 'Get Bradford Working' which according to the Council will "provide approximately 390 new jobs, 400 new apprenticeships, 300 work experience placements, 600 qualifications, 525 sustained job outcomes and 5 new studio schools with 1500 school places linked to business" .  This aims to get more workers qualified and will create around 350 intermediate jobs, which is indeed a commendable effort.  There are over 19,000 jobseekers allowance claimaints, over 4,000 of these for a year or more in the district, so whilst it is a welcome initiative, it is not a solution to the 'worklessness' affecting the district.  Furthermore, the funding runs for two years, so it is a concern how the efforts into tackling unemployment and stimulating the economy will be sustained.

To create jobs, help improve the image of the city centre (and other centres in the district) there are other approaches that could be pursued.  Some of these would of course require a whole new pot of regeneration cash, others less so and others would require the co-operation of property owners and other organisations in the city.
Queensgate Market, Huddersfield
Over the border, Kirklees Council are offering free 'taster' market stalls and are running a competition for prospective stallholders to have a free stall for a longer period of time, at Queensgate market, above.  This would be easy for the council to implement, because the stalls are in their ownership. Another idea, perhaps requiring more cash, would be to a run a scheme with the owner of vacant retail property.  The shop owner gets a discounted fit out on their store, on condition they give discounted rent to a shopkeeper for a prolonged period of time.  This idea could indeed go beyond retail property and to many of the city's large mill buildings, such as those in Goitside below,  which could be used for creative purposes or even large buildings in the city centre such as Sunwin House and the Highpoint building.    A city centre property trust, as explored in the DIY regeneration post could be another way to get such property back into positive use.
Vincent Street, Bradford
Such schemes to bring property back into use would create opportunities for employment and enterprise.  It would help give Bradford a competitive edge to attract new business start ups and businesses relocating from other areas.  A number of non-retail uses in shops such as bars and cafés would help make the city centre a more attractive place to live and perhaps revitalise the city centre residential market.  This would hopefully improve the image of the city centre and make it a better proposition for national multiple retailers.

This may sound a bit visionary, but that's the point.  Let's get Bradford working.

Monday, 18 June 2012

The Youth Of The City

It is quite a pleasant evening out in Bradford and when that usually happens it sees City Park is full of many young people.  Lots of teenagers generally just sat around or maybe playing football, or larking about in the Mirror Pool.  There are people who are probably from most parts of the city, many different backgrounds, all wearing different clothes and a there is a whole spectrum of funky hair colours and different sub-cultures sat around.  It is a heartening sight.

The other day, George Galloway stated that by 2020 Bradford will be "the youngest city in Europe" and "what should be a blessing is going to be a time bomb".  Given the unemployment rate amongst young people in Mr Galloway's constituency and the news last week that Thomas Cook will be pulling nearly 500 jobs out of the city, it is difficult to argue against this viewpoint.  Many of the young people out enjoying themselves in City Park tonight are likely to go to University and then leave home for work because the city does not have the job opportunities.  Some young people might choose to start their own business, but what would make them want to choose to do this in Bradford than any other city.  There is a danger that the most skilled people will leave and will leave behind a population with lower employability than in other cities.

The amount of vacant space in the population, the unemployment rate, the high proportion of young people and the ability for Bradford to be able to reinvent itself differently to other large cities in the north should all align to make the centre of Bradford be a really special city in the next decade or so.  But it is very easy to find reasons to dismiss this and to write off the city.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Disillusion v Reasons To Be Cheerful

A personal blog from me, Tom:

I am trying hard to resist the top one, but I haven't been acknowledging the bottom one.

Bradfordia blog activity has dried up of late.  I think the usual issues with blogs of running out of ideas and running out of motivation have affected it.  It's not like there hasn't been anything happening in the city centre of late though, since my last blog post the Westfield site has been occupied and the Odeon saga continues to take many twists and turns.  Businesses in the city centre are still closing down, affected by the Westfield debacle and the poor trading conditions and the state of the economy that is having a negative impact nationally and internationally.

There is still lots of good things happening in the city centre, you only have to look at How Do?! Magazine or follow the 'right' people on Twitter (I should make a list) to see that.  City Park has been brilliant whilst the weather has been good, it is a massive shame that it wasn't used for the Mela (though it is easy to say that, with the benefit of hindsight) and also it is frankly baffling that the European Championships games aren't being shown on the big screen there.  Positive Bradford Day on June 22 and the Olympic Torch coming to town two days later are a great opportunity to celebrate the city centre and to get people down into town, hopefully with some sunshine.

The blog has been useful for me to get some ideas across about how the city centre could be improved, but I think I am now bereft of ideas (even though I have had some good ones, if I do say so myself).  As I've said before, the city centre needs a whole host of people to work together, but I'm not massively confident this will happen yet.   But there is still no reason why not.

So is this a final blog post for Bradfordia?  No.  If I get any great ideas or feel the need to say something about the city centre, then I will - just not had many ideas nor have I felt compelled to say anything of late.



Tuesday, 1 May 2012

DIY Urban Regeneration

Bradford, and particularly the city centre, is in need of regeneration.  Parts of the city have a youth unemployment rate that is more than double the national average, the city centre is near the top of the charts for vacant shop units and stalled development projects have blighted the city centre, a place which faces competition from other centres across West Yorkshire and beyond.  The textile industry in the city has left a legacy of many empty mill buildings, some of which have fallen victim to fires and some have been subject to stalled development proposals (such as Midland Mills, below).

Midland Mill Forecourt
The city is forecast to have one of the fastest rising populations in the UK over the coming years, which presents a challenge as to how all these people are housed.  Property developers are not wanting to take any risks in these turbulent times, so are opting for what seem to be 'safe bets', greenfield and low density houses with gardens and space for cars, a Castle for the Englishman - or Mondeo man.

The mechanisms for delivering regeneration have changed in recent years.  Large scale regeneration projects led by the public sector do not fit with the Government's austerity policies, changes to the availability of finance mean that large scale city centre apartment development, driven by speculators, are a thing of the past.  But the city still has empty buildings, people to house and needs to be a place where companies can start-up or want to move in to.

Community Led Development
Non for profit mutual societies can be set up to secure development.  Brixton Green has issued shares to the community to secure the redevelopment of a council owned site close to the centre of Brixton.  FC United  have issued shares to the community to build their own stadium at Newton Heath.

The Creative Foundation is Folkestone is a charity that has acquired dis-used buildings in the town, leading to the establishment of a Creative Quarter.

Closer to Bradford, the LILAC eco housing scheme in Bramley is currently under development.  This is a mutual home ownership society, where members have joined the co-operative and twenty homes are being built.  LILAC has secured investment through loanstock, where investors can lend the co-operative funds over a fixed period.  In Slaithwaite, the Green Valley Grocer (below) has thrived after the village's greengrocers was bought by the community, following a share issue and the shop provides an outlet for locally produced food, which would not have been possible without the community buying into the venture.
Green Valley Grocer
Bradford does have some co-operatives already, the 1 in 12 club and Brances and The Hive housing co-operatives. 

But in the meantime...

The meantime phenomenon has certainly not missed out in Bradford, as demonstrated by Fabric's Pop Up Art Space, Urban Garden and Hand Made in Bradford. The Pop Up People report looked at how vacant spaces have been used temporarily, a theme that was explored in an earlier blogpost.  With Bradford's number of empty shops, this needs to be pursued.
boxpark shoreditch - popup container mall
Bradford is yet to have its multi-million pound Westfield shopping mall, but those hipsters in Shoreditch made a whole shopping area out of shipping containers, Boxpark (above).  If shopping in shipping containers seems a bit too far fetched for Bradford, there is certainly scope for small scale intervention.  I walk through Bradford Interchange everyday, it must have one of the highest levels of footfall in the whole city, it will be the first thing that many people see in the city... but just look at it:

Entrance To Bradford Interchange

Get some greenery on the top of the walls, a climbing plant up those poles and add a bit of colour to those glass panel things and it would just look a whole lot less drab and just a bit more welcoming!

Can we do DIY Regeneration in Bradford?
Why not?  How much confidence is there in other forms of regeneration at the moment, in fact do these even exist any more?  Banks aren't lending money and developers aren't taking risks, but regeneration still needs to happen and someone needs to fill that gap.

Imagine if it was the people who had regenerated places like the Goitside area (below), which had a high number of residents and workers occupying the empty buildings.  Imagine if the community owned and operated the Odeon building and large vacant buildings like Highpoint and Sunwin House were handed over for a large range of retail, arts and entertainment venues - that'd be amazing!

The squeeze on local government finances and the recession require an innovative and adventurous response, particularly in Bradford where the need for regeneration is so acute.  Community led development would help improve Bradford's image, reinforce its identity and help the city centre sustain a larger residential population, which in turn would support shops and services.

So, over to us.

Goit Side near Grattan Road in Bradford (2)

Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Mayoral Referendum and the City Centre

Next week, voters in Bradford will go the polls and decide whether or not we should have a directly elected mayor.  The Prime Minister David Cameron has called the referendums a 'once in a generation chance to change the way our country is run', though presumably not outside of the ten cities that do not have a referendum on the issue.  Despite this once in a generation chance, a nationwide poll finds that many are against the changes.

The reasons to support a directly elected mayor are, according to David Cameron, for cities to become "more powerful, prominent and prosperous", presumably through strong leadership and more accountability - though how have places like Doncaster, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool experienced such a shift since having directly elected mayors in the early 2000s?

Doncaster's mayor is English Democrat, Peter Davies - former Labour party, Conservative party and UK Independence party member and father of Shipley's MP Philip Davies.  Peter Davies has used his platform as directly elected mayor to deny climate change, cut funding related to minorities and multiculturalism and to advocate withdrawal from the EU .  The voters of Doncaster will again go to the polls to decide if they want a directly elected mayor, having had one for ten years already, and most local businesses would like to see the continuation of a directly elected mayor, though an earlier survey shows that residents in Doncaster don't agree.

Middlesbrough elected 'Robocop' as Mayor, Ray Mallon.    Since Ray Mallon was elected, The Boro has seen an improved town centre, the opening of MIMA, a reduction in crime and the town set out its ambitions by bidding for city status.  Ray Mallon would seem like a good advert for an elected mayor, though maybe not when it comes to taxis.

North of the Tees, Hartlepool elected a monkey as mayor.  Stuart Drummond, is now in his third term as mayor in Hartlepool, having being originally elected as Hartlepool United's H'Angus the Monkey mascot. Drummond, an independent, beat another independent candidate into second place in his last election in 2009. The independents in Middlesbrough and Hartlepool and the English Democrat candidate in Doncaster perhaps show elected mayors as a way for people to shun the mainstream parties in favour of a new approach.

The arguments against an elected mayors are the cost, that it is undemocratic for so much power to be placed in one pair of hands and that there is a danger that people will vote for people more on personality, than their policies.  

Bradford has had no-overall political control for over a decade and this could be a factor that is stifling the regeneration of the city centre.  The leadership has changed between a Labour and Lib Dem coalition, to a Conservative and Lib Dem coalition, and back again.  Local politicians might be less willing to take bold steps and big risks because of the danger of losing their leadership at the next election.  

A directly elected mayor would have a platform to make big bold decisions and the right candidate could help raise the profile of the city in a positive manner, but ultimately it depends who would get elected.  Where ever voters are in the city, they want value for their council tax and they want services to be delivered efficiently.  But then there are the social divides in the district, people will have different priorities for what the council should be doing and how they should be spending their money.  Then there are spatial divides, if the city did have a mayor - would they be able to convince voters in outlying areas such as Ilkley and Keighley that the regeneration of Bradford City Centre is important for them?

For those people who care about the city centre, it is imperative that the importance of the city centre and its relationship to the rest of the district is promoted.  If the city votes yes for an elected mayor and the city centre's regeneration is seen as a big vote winner for a prospective candidate, it will ensure lots of debate about how the city centre moves forward and hopefully lots of action.  But it doesn't mean this process of promoting the city centre and taking the best course of action for its regeneration can't be reached if the city votes no.

Bradford Urban Garden

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Beautiful Bradford

Walking around Bradford on a Spring evening, when the sun has come out just after it has rained, is beautiful. Beauty being a combination of qualities, such as shape, colour, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses (thanks Google).

I think the rain must wash the buildings some how and it brings out a different hue in the bits of grass that are visible in the city centre. The sky is either blue or dark grey, so the sunlit stone, concrete and brick all contrast sharply with the sky. Then there may be other colourful elements like a rainbow overhead or blossom in the trees. The long shadows cast by the slowly setting sun also add another element to all the different light and colour that one can see. The topography of the city and the different heights and materials of the buildings, as well as the hills in the background – if you’re looking from far away, all combine perfectly to form something beautiful.

Do you think that there is a time of day, or time of year when Bradford looks better than on a Spring evening?  

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Will the Odeon bloom in the Bradford Spring?

All Eyes on Bradford

The past week in Bradford has been fascinating.  The City Park opening saw thousands come into the City Centre on Saturday, bask in the lovely spring sunshine and see a whole day of entertainment.  Other new things came into the city centre, the Hand Made in Bradford shop and the Life Online gallery at the Media Museum.  Bradford was trending on Twitter throughout the week, with the Bulls fighting for survival and the Bantams fighting.  The main news story for the city centre was the election of George Galloway in the Bradford West by-election, which has ensured people from outside the city passing on their expert opinions on the city.

Odeon Watching

Enter George Galloway

Whilst a lot of the focus on Galloway’s campaign has been on the targeting of the Muslim community in Bradford West, focusing on issues such as the Iraq war and the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the campaign also focused on local issues.  He has identified the Odeon as one of his main priorities and the non-development of the Westfield site as another.  It seems as though many voters think that George Galloway will bring something new to the local political table, outside of the ‘big three’ parties.  The election of Galloway in the city may have the same impact as having a firebrand directly elected mayor, an issue that we will decide on in a referendum in May.  The issue of having strong leadership from a directly elected mayor is important in a city that has had over a decade of no overall control in the council chamber and that now returns MPs from four different parties to Westminster.

The Save Our Odeon website summarised the views on the Odeon from the by-election candidates. The Conservatives and Labour party showed no apparent view on this issue, with the Liberal Democrats wanting to demolish it or retain the towers.  The other parties sought to save, regenerate, redesign it or at put the issue over to the local population.  The lack of response from the Conservatives and Labour on this is perhaps symbolic of their campaigns. Indeed, the Odeon issue might not be important for some people – A survey of young people from the Bradford Property Forum states that the Odeon does not hold sway for many people.  But the Odeon holds a special place in the hearts of many Bradfordians that would like to see it saved.

The ownership of the Odeon has now passed to the Homes & Communities Agency (HCA), following the winding up of the Regional Development Agency, Yorkshire Forward.  The winding up of Yorkshire Forward, the winding up of Bradford’s Urban Regeneration Company, the architechts going into administration and financial troubles plaguing the developer have renewed hope that the Odeon can be saved.   A developer has come forward that wishes to retain the cinema building as a performing arts institute, again renewing hope that the building can be saved.

Should the Odeon be saved?

If the Odeon is saved, it will ensure that a unique building – unlike many others in Bradford, in terms of the era it was built in and materials used would survive. A building where The Beatles played and, in the UNESCO City of Film, where many people will have seen their first film, had a first date in the back rows that lead to a happy marriage or saw a film that really inspired them.  The HCA provided a damning report of the interior of the building which suggests that it would be very expensive to restore the building back to its former glory, but there have been urban explorers who have seen the building that do not agree with this. There are so many reasons that point to saving the Odeon, both emotive reasons and to preserve the architecture which is unique in Bradford.

If the Odeon is not saved, there is the danger that the site will become another ‘Westfield’, a derelict hole next to two of the most visited buildings in the city (The Alhambra and the Media Museum), opposite a flagship public square and opposite the Southgate development, where many travellers will stay at the Jury’s Inn and see a derelict hole from their window.  Ensuring that this situation does not happen would have to be built in to any agreement to redevelop the site, unlike Westfield.  Any new building would have to be bold, striking, unique to compliment its neighbouring buildings and to provide a stirring backdrop to the City Park.  The building’s use should also compliment its surroundings, therefore in this case – a destination for culture and leisure.  When all these things are considered, then the argument to retain the building is strengthened.

The New Victoria scheme to replace the Odeon contains offices, apartments and hotel accommodation.  The apartment market has probably changed beyond recognition since 2005 and it seems unlikely that there will be any major development of apartment buildings in the city centre in the near future.  Bradford has seen many budget hotels open in the last few years and Travelodge, Premier Inn, Holiday Inn, Hilton and Jury’s Inn now all have hotels in the city centre.  It would be interesting to see if any hotel companies have requirements to fulfil in Bradford City Centre – are there many other companies left outside of the ones already here? As for offices, the city centre does need top-spec office space to try and attract companies to relocate here.  There is a lot of vacant office space in the city centre, but much of this is built in an era when businesses had different requirements.  But there is the Police and Magistrates Courts site across the road overlooking the City Park, and possible long term development opportunities such as Jacob’s Well Council Buildings.

There are signs that all is not lost with the Odeon, it may flourish in the ‘Bradford Spring’.  Keep your eye on Bradford Odeon Rescue Group, Save the Odeon and City of Film in the coming months.


Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Spring is in the air

Spring, according to the definition on wikipedia, relates broadly to ideas of rebirth, renewal and regrowth. Does this apply to Bradford City Centre?  Whilst the Odeon development project (or lack of) or the Westfield development project (or lack of) have been grabbing the local column issues, would suggest Bradford is moribund, but there's lots going on to suggest Bradford is very much alive.

The much talked about City Park has its opening ceremony on March 24th, this Saturday, including musical performers, theatre, parkour and fireworks (and who doesn't like fireworks, except family pets maybe?).  Fabric's Hand Made in Bradford also opens on that day, with Loosely Bound's Zine Extravaganza there too.  Saturday is also the last day of Mark Power's excellent 'The Sound of Two Songs' exhibition, at The Impressions Gallery, just by City Park.  In the evening, there's Dublab at the Polish Club, a screening of 'Room at the Top' at City Hall, 'The Diary of Anne Frank' at the Alhambra and the night before, the world famous Halle Orchestra are playing at St George's Hall. March 23rd sees live literature from Word Life vs How Do Magazine at the Polish club. 

Next month, the city will be hosting the 18th Bradford International Film Festival, with Oliver Assayas, Barbara Windsor and Ray Winstone, amongst others as guests and a diverse range of events.  
Minicine will be at Glyde House for their Mini-Bloodbath, a screening of one of a choice of four horror films and later at the Polish Parish Club for a whole day of Polish cinema. The cinemas at the National Media Museum, show many different films. 

Of course there are loads more things happening in central Bradford and the wider city. Bradford Buzz and How Do Magazine are two fine sources of information for seeing what is going on.  It may not be mainstream, polished and in your face, but there is so much happening in the city right now.

Fountains of Colour, Bradford City Park

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

What businesses might work in the city centre?

Back to the opportunities post of this blog (that is the most important post on the whole blog), of the few things listed there are several which intrinsically linked to weaknesses and threats that the city centre faces.  The opportunities this particular blog post is looking at is: new retailers, creative use of retail space, evening economy and nightlife.  These are mainly linked to the weaknesses: shopping provision and footfall; and to the threats: rents, business rates, competition from elsewhere, abandonment and spiral of decline.  Clever eh?

Basically I keep thinking of what businesses would be welcome additions, that aren't too unrealistic, ones that I would run if I had the start up capital and business experience.  I wish I had those things, but even if I didn't I would still be put off by the things mentioned above in weaknesses and threats.  I will try and include references to existing independent businesses along the way, because there are a fair few already!

So here is a list of things that seem to work well in other places and that aren't ridiculously ambitious:

Good independent coffee shop
Bradford's not exactly lacking in coffee shops: Starbucks (x2), Caffe Nero and Costa Coffee are all in the centre.  I usually go to these places for coffee and, they're ok, but I could be anywhere.  There are some  independent cafés, like the Red Room on Queensgate which do nice coffee and food, and Le Café Bleu on North Parade too.  But it would be nice to have somewhere that was more like a coffee bar, Coffee Evolution in Huddersfield (below) comes to mind.  Somewhere that serves good coffee, has free newspapers available to read and is just a little less polished than its chain counterparts and maybe does music, poetry, philosphy etc 'out of hours'.    (@AtkiTeach also suggested this)
Milkshake / Ice Cream shop
I remember seeing places like Shakeaway down south, that make milkshakes with all kinds of chocolate bars etc.  They seem to be popping up in more and more places now, like the two (Shakesville and Shaake) that are in Huddersfield and Shakeaholic in Leeds and the North East.  Dewsbury has got a new Ice Cream parlour, Igloo, in the town centre.  These places seem very popular and offer something for younger people and families (no not necessarily healthy!).

Cocktail bar
We've got some good pubs and bars in the city centre, places like the Sparrow and City Vaults are good places in their own right.  I'm sure there are places that provide cocktails too, though maybe not to a more mature crowd.  I think places like Font in Manchester (below), Sandinista in Leeds or Vox in Huddersfield would be very welcome additions to the Bradford night scene.  Cocktails, food, good beer...

Font Bar Food and Cocktails

Diverse food establishments - (half way between a restaurant or a takeaway, but not a café)
The city centre has places to go for a curry, Italian restaurants, a Russian restaurant, somewhere to get Polish food; its got the usual chain places and a handful of takeaways to get food and a few cafés too and a tiny Japanese Noodle Bar in the market. But, it'd be good to have somewhere independent that hits that sweet spot between all of these.  Somewhere like Elephant in Brixton Village which sells Pakistani street food or Pinto in Glasgow which sells Burritos would be nice, or a bigger version of the Japanese noodle bar!  There are loads of great food places in the city, but I can't think of many in the city centre where I would want to go in on my own, eat some nice food and then just leave.  Not a takeaway, not a restaurant - not sure how to explain that!

@TanyaVital suggested that more international restaurants would be welcome in the city centre, @KeithWildman said restaurants but not curry restaurants.  I think the aforementioned Russian restaurant is a good example, but there are loads of different cultures making up the city, so international restaurants would be a good draw.  It would be good for one of the big curry restaurants from the city, like Zouk or Akbars to open up in the heart of the city centre, as Bradford is the curry capital after all (and not Brick Lane).

Chocolate / confectionary shop
Other than the often much maligned Thornton's, I'm not sure what else there is in the city centre.  I can't see Hotel Chocolat coming here any time soon, but if someone could learn a few things from them selling nice chocolate with good customer service, it would be welcome and I could see somewhere selling American 'candy', like Candyland in Galway, being very popular.

Card / Stationery Shop
We've got card shops, places like Clintons and ones on the market.  Personally speaking, I like the foul mouthed cards they sell at Scribblr and the cards of Paperchase.  Again, I can't see these coming to Bradford any time soon, but there's opportunities for an independent to capitalise here.

Clothes Shops
I buy many clothes from fairly cheap chain stores, so I'm not best qualified to speak.  There are some clothes shops like TDF and AN-X in the centre already, but I'm not sure how much of a range is covered by shops in Bradford.  @Atkiteach suggested more clothes shops, with an online presence, to stop his other half shopping in Leeds.

A Department Store?
Bradford is currently lacking a department store, it had Busby's many years ago, Brown Muff - later Rackhams until the 1990s and Sunwin House until the 2000s, @KeithWildman identified a department store as something that could be accommodated in Bradford.  The Westfield development when it goes ahead, is most likely to have a Debenhams in it.  However, there are independent department stores still, like Psyche at Middlesbrough (below), something like that would greatly enhance Bradford's retail offer.
PSYCHE - Middlesbrough

Charity shops
I'm not joking, here.  We've got loads of charity shops, these could be a lot more attractive if the goods were presented well, perhaps as vintage shops, rather than charity shops.  Perhaps Bradford College fashion students could fashion up some charity shop chic?  @Bonebabe suggested somewhere with a good seamstress  to adjust charity shop purchases and a personal shopper service for those of us that don't have a creative eye for a bargain.

Food Shop
@Atkiteach suggested an Asian / Oriental food shop, with a range of spices, offering an online service, there are already (market) and Sing Kee supermarket that may be offering this (though without the online part) already. etc.  @FlawedMonkey said that the Polish deli from Manningham Lane would be a welcome addition to the city centre.  @FlawedMonkey also suggested a bakery for the city centre (not Greggs, sorry Greggs!), I think somewhere offering a good range of treats like the village bakery in Saltaire or the Bakehouse in Huddersfield would fit right in, or somewhere to enjoy good bread like Breads Etcetera in Brixton (below).  @FlawedMonkey finally suggests a health food shop, Bradford does appear to be lacking an independent shop. Personally speaking, I would like somewhere that does a good range of vegetarian and vegan food to go, like Eighth Day in Manchester or Food Therapy in Halifax.

Breads Etcetera, Brixton

So there you go; Bradford city centre shouldn't be like any other place, but it would be good to borrow things from Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Manchester, Leeds, Brixton, Glasgow, Galway, Manningham, Saltaire, Halifax and where ever else to become more vibrant.  On reading through, it does seem a bit like a middle class wishlist, but shops and businesses like these would be very welcome in the city centre!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Bouncing Back

Bradford's Bouncing Back, was a marketing campaign for Bradford in the 1980s, which I'd never heard much about other than people talking about it and saying 'bounced back my arse' or something similar, obviously people in Bradford aren't known for their cynicism about anything.  Liz Green on Radio Leeds had a discussion on her show about how to sell Bradford, I spoke on there and didn't really add much that hadn't been said - and couldn't help have a dig at the negativity of some people in the city.  The question Liz was asking though is, how do we sell Bradford?  A couple of days after this, I was over in Headingley at the Oxfam bookshop and I found 'Laugh? I nearly went to Bradford!' by Tom Clinton, all about Bradford's Bouncing Back.

Bradford had suffered a lot in the decade or so preceding the start of the Bradford's Bouncing Back campaign.  Peter Sutcliffe had been at large, then there was the terrible fire at Valley Parade in 1985 and then the city had suffered badly from the deindustrialisation of the 1970s onwards, as well as the Honeyford Affair and negative perceptions of racial segregation.  Fast forward 25 years and the city is still seen as having an image problem, visible in the city centre from prominant derelict buildings such as the Odeon, the Westfield site, another mass-murderer in Steven Griffiths and the city is still in the shadow of the 2001 riots.  The TV programme 'Make Bradford British' has been summed up very well by a couple of locals Keith Wildman and Kate Wellham, as well as loads of others.

The Clinton book talks through the campaign, the cynicism it faced and the positive impacts it had on the city. The campaign was based on Smiles Better in Glasgow, not much like it had been done before. The campaign's first HQ was in a Portakabin on the pre-Centenary Square Market Street straight outside City Hall.  It was considered the campaign generated over a million quids worth of publicity (from a spend of £142k) and got the name of Bradford out there across the UK and beyond in a positive light and some David Hockney artwork (above), even generating tourism interest to this grim northern town.  The campaign created a focal point for the public and private sectors to work together. In the Autumn of 1988, when the Council was under the leadership of now Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, the funding for the project ended and it was unable to be sustained privately.  Its difficult to consider what project the difference would have made if it had run for a little bit longer.
Manningham Mills, Bradford

The end of the book is looking to the future and is very positive, with talk of the Victoria & Albert Museum moving north to Manningham Mills (above, which got converted into flats by Urban Splash) and the rejuvenation of Little Germany The West End project is perhaps a sad thing to read twenty years after the publication if the book, as most of this area is still awaiting regeneration.

The response to 'Make Bradford British' shows that there are many positive people in the City of Bradford who are proud of the place, but there still seems to be a missing link between translating this into a more positive image nationally.  We all know what makes Bradford a good place, but what's the best way to get the message across?

City Park, Bradford

Saturday, 25 February 2012

The Future: The Death of Bradford

On March 24th 2052, the Bradford Living Museum will open in West Leeds.  This brand new visitor attraction will utilise the 19th and 20th century Architecture of the so-called 'lost city of Bradford' alongside interactive displays and experiences of what it was like to live in an industrial (and post-industrial) city in Northern England in the 19th and 20th centuries.  It's hard to believe now, but only forty years ago, Bradford was a city in its own-right and independent from Leeds.  This is a profile of how the city was lost:

2014: The economic slump arising from the 'credit crunch' has stared to ease, but it has taken many retail casualties.  Market Street in Bradford City Centre now does not have a single retailer.
2015: A shopping centre in the Broadway area of the City had not developed,  a company from Westfield had not delivered the centre and the site had been empty for ten years, so the council took over the development of the site, as the
2017: The Broadway shopping centre development is halted as recession takes hold again, the site is now characterised by rusting steelwork over the 'hole'.
2020: Bradford City fail to regain their Football League status after three years as a non-league club and they go bust, no new club is likely to return to Valley Parade.
2022: Changing trends and the retail recession have meant that the city's main shopping centre, the Kirkgate Centre had to close, the building was fifty years old and the maintenance cost was restricting how long it could open for.
2024: Some parts of the city centre are now abandoned and derelict as there is no prospect of them being brought back into retail use. The early 2020s advancement in private car travel has made it cheaper than ever and people are braving the congestion to shop in other cities.
2026: Bradford University closes down, as tuition fees rises and lack of funding since the 2010s have put the university out of business.
2028: The National Media Museum relocates from Bradford to Media City at Salford.
2030: The curtain goes down on the famous Alhambra Theatre as the Council could no longer afford to run it and no private firm would take it on.
2031: After failing to secure a Super League license in the last 2020s, Bradford Bulls, the city's rugby league club are unable to survive life outside the sport's top tier and go bust.
2031: The 2031 census shows that the population of the City of Bradford has decreased by 30% in the last ten years, leaving behind the most disadvantaged communities.
2032: The college relocates from Bradford to the Aire Valley.
2034: Major civil unrest and riots in central Bradford, youth unemployment is 90% as many communities in the city centre are isolated from job opportunities and lack the skills to be able to access employment opportunities.
2035: The M606 cuts through many inner Bradford suburbs, meeting the M65 in the Aire Valley. The government have undertaken building motorways as low carbon car travel has boomed.
2036: Bradford City Council is abolished along with other authorities in the area, Leeds Council is now the single council administering the greater Leeds area.
2037: Forster Square Retail Park closes down, but is remembered at the new Forster Square Mall where the M606 meets the M65 at the end of the Aire Valley.  Many offices are now located close to the motorways, as we know it today.
2039: The branch line from Shipley to the centre of Bradford (at Forster Square Station) is closed due to low usage.
2041: Bradford Interchange is closed down, it is replaced with a new station at Junction 4 of the M606: West Leeds Parkway.
2044: Westfield opens its new West Leeds Mall on the site of the former Odsal stadium.
2047: The extent of lawlessness in the old city centre of Bradford requires the Army to be brought into clear the area of civilians, large walls dubbed: 'the ring of steel' are erected around the old city centre.
2049: The new postal service, formed between a merger of the Royal Mail and Amazon remove Bradford from addresses.  At about the same time Bradford is removed from roadsigns.
2051: The dereliction of old Bradford has created unique wildlife habitats, Leeds Council open the West Leeds Nature Area.
2052: Significant investment inside 'the ring of steel' leads to the opening of Bradford Living Museum.

The Future: The Renaissance of Bradford

Bradford has had mixed fortunes in its long history.  Only forty years ago, the city was being written off as 'finished', received much disparaging media coverage and the landscape was blotted by abandoned buildings and failed building schemes.  Just as the city's textile trade created great prosperity 200 years ago, the last four decades have inspired other cities to show that there is a life after the traditional industry has moved away.  This is how the city came back from the brink:

2013: Market Street in Bradford, an area which had a large number of vacant shops and pubs, becomes a new centre for independent shops and café bars, thanks to a partnership between the council and land owners.  The now famous Market Street Gallery opened.
2014: Confidence in the city is growing, events at City Park are attracting people and Westfield is about to open.  Market Street has been transformed and now Rawson Street is getting the same treatment, with many more independent shops opening.
2015: The Westfield shopping mall opens at Broadway.
2016: The former Odeon cinema is redeveloped and opens as a new concert hall.
2017: The Goitside Area is seeing major residential lead development, artists studios and alternative clubs have occupied some of the disused mill buildings.
2018: The 'Business Forest' adjacent to City Park opens up, with many business relocating parts of their operations to Bradford.
2020: The University expands, as admissions have increased in previous years, reflecting the city's new found popularity.
2022: The city is now better connected than ever, it is one of the first in the UK to get a new generation free wi-fi network and the newly electrified railway to Manchester and Leeds delivers much faster travel times.
2023: Bradford's schools have soared up the national league tables thanks to the unparalleled investment they have received in the last decade.
2024: An amazing year for sport in the city as Bradford Bulls win the Super League Grand Final for the first time in 19 years,  and Bradford City return to the Premier League after two decades.  The City Park is the scene of many sporting celebrations.
2026: More business success for the city, as a top national company relocates in national headquarters to Bradford city centre.
2028: Bradford is now connected to the West Yorkshire Tram network.
2030: The new Bradford Ice Arena opens close to Forster Square, as the canal extension nears completion.
2032: The Bradford Canal Spur is reopened, after waiting many years, the canal basis is a hive of development activity.
2035: Bradford Crossrail is completed, with the new central station providing a link to the HS2 line.  The West Yorkshire tram network continues to connect different parts of the centre, public transport investment has been significant to help manage the decline of the private car as fuel costs have become unsustainable.
2037: Forster Square Retail Park is demolished and is transformed into a lush canalside linear park, supporting the increased resident population of this part of the city.
2040: The Tate Modern North gallery opens up at the Forster Square canal basin, attracting millions of visitors every year and helping Bradford become a tourism hub.
2042: Bradford is named the European Capital of Culture, with events held across the city's concert hall, arena and galleries.
2045: The central area of the city now has more people living there than at any other time, as people have moved closer to centres of work and leisure, and as the city's economy has developed.  The economic productivity gap between the cities of Northern England and London keeps closing as infrastructure has improved beyond recognition in the North.
2048: A new 38,000 capacity central stadium opens to the south of the city centre, the highlight of the year there being England defeating Australia in the quarter final of the Rugby League World Cup, which England went on to win.
2052: The City of Bradford's population has nearly doubled to 600,000, alongside the city of Leeds with over 1 million people, as the UK's population nears 75 million, with successful cities like those of West Yorkshire accommodating this change.

The Future

A lot of said about Bradford and its regeneration.  Last night, the City Council approved a £35m funding package for the city centre as part of their budget.  This certainly is welcome news, and whilst their are many question marks over the Westfield development, the business rate relief scheme will hopefully help many new start ups and attract different companies to the city centre.

Many critics of the city centre say that the city centre is dead.  Not just as in 'being quiet at night' (that is very true), but its life has ended.  The city centre has finished and there really is no point in doing anything else to do it because the city centre has gone beyond the point of revival.  This then leads me to two scenarios, one is more dystopian and one is more utopian... What if the city died? or what if its renaissance was a success thanks to private and public sector investment?

Both of these scenarios are extreme and will never happen, but they provide two contrasting outcomes for what might happen depending on the belief of and investment in cities like Bradford.

The Future: The Death of Bradford
The Future: The Renaissance of Bradford

Monday, 20 February 2012

Living in the City Centre

In the blog post about 'opportunities' for Bradford City Centre, living was identified: "There is some living in the city centre already, many buildings in the ‘Goitside’ area are unoccupied, as are many floors above the shops.  Given the housing waiting list figures, the general shortage of housing in the city – there is scope for the city centre to provide more housing in the long term and for facilities such as health centres to have a presence in the city centre." - The issue hasn't been explored much in this blog, but it has until now.

I tried to think about reasons people choose to move somewhere, so I took the imaginative step of Googling "reasons for choosing a place to live" and going straight to the first page that came up.  The idea is then comparing each of these reasons with what is happening Bradford, an amazing concept right?

Public Transport Links
The city centre scores very highly for this, it is one of the main reasons why myself a seasoned public transport user, chose to move here.  Pretty much all of Bradford district is linked by bus, as well as areas around Leeds, Huddersfield, Halifax, Dewsbury, Wakefield.  The train links to Leeds and the Aire and Wharfe Valleys are frequent, and trains to Manchester aren't bad either.  

Links to motorway networks 
I'll take this to mean motoring in general.  Its a non-starter to have a car in the central apartment blocks, but is possible in Little Germany and other peripheral areas.  City centre living is unlikely to be as popular in the UK as other countries, not only because of the whole 'there's no culture of it here' thing but because of how car dominated our society is.
Bradford rooftops
Travel time to your workplace(s) 
This is linked to the above two points, if you work in the city centre, then great.  If you work near the centre or somewhere in Bradford its not bad as everywhere is easy to get to on the bus and you're generally going away from the flow of traffic.  But, the economic focus is very much on Leeds - if you work in Leeds City Centre, then its great to get the train in to work though watch out for overcrowding!  If you work to the east of Leeds City Centre or near the motorway, then its not ideal.

School Catchment area 
It would take a massive change in culture and a massive investment in central Bradford to make living around the centre an option for families, but soon there may be no choice.  Most apartments are too small for children and there's a real lack of play space.  It would be possible to be within good access of a good secondary school, but Primary provision may be more problematic.

Proximity to neighbours 
City centre places to live are high density, so there's not much getting away from neighbours.  The way many of the flats are designed aren't very neighbourly, i.e. you don't have a front garden space where you might see your neighbours.  Plus, the population is very transient and so finding that sense of community would be some way off.  This is probably linked to the above and the lack of settled families.

Woolston Warehouse, Grattan Road

Do you prefer to buy a house in a bustling town or out in the suburbs?
In a country where living in the heart of the city isn't really something that most people aspire too, the city centre probably loses out on this count.

What amenities (gym, shops, local pub etc) would you like to have close by? 
Amenities are a big selling point of the city centre.  There are lots of different places to buy food in the market and other specialist food shops, but these don't open 'out of hours', there is Morrisons in the centre which opens quite restricted hours and then the 24 hour Tesco on the edge of the centre.  Fashion retail is quite limited but public transport to other nearby cities is easy enough, until we get our shopping provision improved!  The city centre has a range of pubs, there is scope for this to be improved, but this needs more people to live and work in the centre.

This comes down to personal preference and potentially you could have brilliant views of rooftops, amazing listed buildings and even be able to see out to the moors.  Conversely, you might just be able to see straight into other buildings and on to a service yard or busy road.

Desirability of the area
This is perhaps the biggest challenge to living in the centre of Bradford.  Its a challenge making living in the centres of Manchester and Leeds to be something to aspire too.  It would take an massive change to both people's perceptions and the image of Bradford, as well as actually changes to crime rates, schools etc to ever make Bradford desirable.  Places like the Goitside area (Thornton Road / Sunbridge Road) are ripe for residential lead regeneration, but there's the matter of the red light district being there.  A high number of well paid white collar are unlikely to come to Bradford any time soon (perhaps in the long term), the creative sector isn't likely to be a hugely significant generator of jobs - so there would need to be significant investment in the city centre to make it an attractive place for the 'bright young things' to live as a commuter destination.  The low property prices, coupled with an upsurge in the evening economy and independent retail could help, but this needs a whole lot of work.

Gatehaus, Bradford

Off Street Parking
Kinda already covered this in the motorway bit.  Bike parking tends to be overlooked in most developments, it wouldn't do most people harm to cycle out of the Bradford bowl everyday!

In the short term, a whole lot of work needs to be done with the authorities, property owners and businesses to help make Bradford a bit of a cooler and more desirable place.  In the longer term, there needs to be massive investment in schools in the centre, a change in planning policies, the promotion of family housing via larger apartments and the provision of green space and play space, massive investment in public transport to foster a change to our car dominated society.  Then, just then, might city centre living be a long term solution for everyone!

I noticed the website I consulted missed off quite an important issue (!), the price.  As  mentioned in desirability - low prices and a good range of things to do might meet in the middle in Bradford's favour.  The price is something I'll look at next time!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

So what is everyone doing?

The last post was about working together, responding to the words of the Chamber of Trade and the Council.  I am aware of what the council are doing in the city centre and I know what the Chamber of Trade think, so I was keen to see what they're planning to do in the city centre.  I don't know if there is any formal meetings of city centre retailers, so I was keen to meet a few and see what they're looking to do about what issues they face.  I went to the Insight With Passion retail roadshow on Monday night, after hearing about in the local media, I thought this would be an ideal time to see what retailers are aiming to do and even do some 'networking'.  No retailers turned up.  A free event, one of many being held across Yorkshire, giving free advice to retailers and not one retailer turned up.  No one from the council was there, no one from the Chamber of Trade.  It might have been a bad night to have the event, it might not have been marketed well, but it will be interesting to compare this with the events in other towns.  I was actually the only Bradford representative there, who wasn't from the Telegraph & Argus.  The organisers of the event had said that they'd personally approached retailers asking if they wanted to attend and as things were looking, Bradford was probably going to have the lowest turnout despite being one of the biggest centres and having the highest vacancy rate.  My first few posts of the blog talked about the  Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats facing the city centre.  Its got problems that need addressing, but there are heaps of reasons not to give up and why giving up is not an option, I can't accept that people have just given up.

Who are you? What do you sell?  People say Bradford is so bad now that they don't even bother coming into shop, they'll head straight to other neighbouring cities.  So they're not even walking past your shops in the first place.  Where is your online presence?  Are you on Twitter?  I haven't seen many of you yet.  How much does it cost to set up a blog like this? £0, Twitter account £0 - you could even all do one collectively.  Or tell me things to put on here, or other sites like Bradford Buzz.

Things are so much cheaper online, people don't want to pay 60p to park in the city centre - but you're in the city centre already, so what's so special about coming to you instead of online, even if you're not the cheapest?  How do we know you have a specialist knowledge?  How do you demonstrate great quality customer service?  What does great customer service cost to implement?  You could even  host an event for a small cost, maybe even do that collectively?  Do you talk to one another?

Manchester Vintage Clothes Shops, Northern Quarter, Manchester City Centre

Chamber of Trade

To be honest, I'm a little confused about the difference between The Chamber of Trade and Chamber of Commerce, apart from the latter has a much better website.  The Chamber of Trade's website hasn't been updated since 2003.  Maybe the Chamber of Trade could have a City Centre Retail competition?  Best customer service, best shop front, innovater of the year?  I don't know, do they do this already? Then they need to shout louder.  

I know the Chamber of Trade don't like Car Parking.  On street parking is more expensive in Huddersfield and Halifax, the independent retail scene appears to be more thriving there - what is the difference to Bradford?  Is it more fundamental than car parking and do the retailers and Chamber of Trade have a role to play themselves?

The Council

The council collect lots of data, monitoring shop occupancy and footfall - how do they share this with retailers?  Car Parking is an issue in the city centre - do the council have any data about how many people actually travel to the centre by car and how does this compare with neighbouring cities?  Do people overstate the problem of car parking tickets?  Parking enforcement is a source of income to the authority, but this needs to be measured against the attractiveness of the city centre.  The centre has a myriad of bus lanes, areas with different parking restrictions applying - how can these be communicated more effectively?  The council website has easy to find information about off street parking, but what about where you can drive or where you can park on the street?  Even if parking wasn't free at somewhere like Meadowhall, how do you think they would communicate such information to visitors?  

The Council and The Police

Does the council have an alcohol exclusion zone? Why do I see people drinking super strength lager in the street every night if they do?  Why when I go out on a night am I being asked for 'spare change mate'?  It doesn't bother me so much, I see it a lot in other cities, but it seems more frequent in Bradford and this presents a very poor image, especially at night when there aren't many other people around.

Property Owners and Others

The topic of pop up shops has been debated at great length. Some artwork from schools went up at the bottom of Darley Street - it looked good, less so six months later.  There's some great photos online of different parts of Bradford, some great photographers, some great architectural heritage in the city to celebrate, this would cost relatively little and make empty shops look a bit more presentable, so why not?  These could take on a bigger role for more formal events, like the International Film Festival.
Evening opening
Large groups of shops are vacant, like on Market Street and at the Rawson Quarter.  If the Fabric scheme at Zavvi is going to be a place for budding retailers to set up shop, where do they go after that?  Property owners could offer reduced rents to businesses who've come through the Fabric scheme or such schemes, who could receive business plan advice from the Chamber of Commerce / Chamber of Trade, or from the College or even from the Council.  Could people like Spacemakers Agency help?  There's likely to be financial pressures in Local Government in the coming years, but assitance could be provided to fit out shops, as it has down in Rotherham.  What is the reason why landlords should receive a lower rent, instead of no rent at all plus business rates?

A lot of questions here, what are the answers?

Rawson Quarter, Bradford

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Working together

The local media, this week, carried a story about the historic Goldsmith's leaving the city centre, when in recent weeks Toymaster have left James Street and Bon Marche's Broadway store was not one of the lucky ones and didn't figure in that chain's rescue plan.  Goldsmith's is of course the most emotive of these closures because it is part of the legacy of the original Fattorini's Jewelers, where the FA Cup and Rugby League Challenge Cup originated.

Of course, the Council and Chamber of Trade both want to see an improved city centre.  Cllr David Green's comments "I think over the next few months there will be more announcements from the Council to show that we are getting there." don't inspire much confidence in the city centre, but obviously the Council want the city centre to improve. 

Val Summerscales' comments delays to the Westfield scheme hurting the centre cannot be escaped, this is a major issue that is blighting areas of the city centre.  Parking charges are a sensitive issue, but I can see no evidence to suggest that Bradford's parking and enforcement is any worse than other cities.  Parking needs to be charged for to manage demand, it also costs money to pay for parking attendants and business rates for parking spaces.  Parking could definitely be more flexible though, so free parking in the late afternoons or pay on exit provision made.

So the Council want a better city centre, the Chamber of Trade do too.  Retailers would like a better city centre, as it means more business for them.  Landlords want a better city centre because it means more rental income for them.  Residents of the city centre want a better city centre, because they want to be proud of where they live.  There needs to be debate on how this is done, different people need to make concessions (parking is a classic example, but rental income also is), but there is a great need for people in the city centre to work together.

Following the Portas Review, the Government has announced to make £1m of funding available for twelve pilot schemes to carry out some of the ideas.  A town team in Bradford would allow all these different people to come together and send out a  strong message needs to be sent out that Bradford is a good place for people to do business.  The cash injection is likely to be less than £100k, but this could be money that is used to help facilitate different people to work together.  

One organisation attacking the council, the council making vague annoucements and the lack of confidence and empowerment isn't doing anyone good, so lets get to work! 

Tyrrel Street, Bradford

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Here come the Business Rates!

Business rates are often cited by retailers as one of their biggest costs and as one of the barriers that makes town centre retailing difficult to compete with online retail.

How are business rates decided?
For shops, business rates are calculated by multiplying the rateable value of the property by a multiplier.  The rateable value is the open market rental value of the property is assessed by an independent surveyor.  The multiplier is set by Central Government.  In England the standard rate is 43.3p and 42.6p for small businesses.  So a property with a rateable value of £30,000 would have to pay £12,990 per year.  The small business rate is explained more here.  Charities and other organisations may have to pay.

Business Rates v Turnover
Business rates for pubs are charged based on turnover, but not for other businesses.

In Bradford, the Tesco Extra store has a rateable value of £1.96m and will therefore pay about £848,680 in rates.  Assuming the benchmark turnover for the store is £13,405 per sq m (like for this example), and two thirds of the store is for sales,  the turnover is approximately  £77.5m overall.

A small independent retailer could expect a sales density of about £2,500 per sq m.  One of the vacant units on Market Street has a rateable value of £24,250, so business rates would be approx £10,500.  They could expect to turnover about £190,000.

Business rates for the large superstore represent just over 1% of turnover and for the small independent retailer represent just over 12% of turnover.  Of course these are just based on assumptions, but they do give some indication of the challenges smaller retailers face.

Are business rates charged on empty shops?
Since 2008 they do, but there are exceptions for listed buildings and shops that are empty in the first three months.

Are there any business rate relief schemes?
Business rate relief will be given to firms in Bradford who train up employees as part of the Regional Growth Fund initiative.

Do the Government have any plans for Business Rate reform?
There are some woolly words in the Portas Review, but nothing more than that.

Bradford Westfield building site.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

High Point

High Point or the former Yorkshire Building Society HQ if you will, is probably Bradford's best example of brutalist architecture.  A look at these urban exploration photos inspired the blog post.

I think Owen Hatherley sums up this piece of architecture well: 
"High Point is also ritually loathed by right-thinking Bradfordians, and is also home to a local bank, the somewhat less notorious Yorkshire Building Society. It's also utterly freakish, the severed head of some Japanese giant robot clad in a West Yorkshire stone-based concrete aggregate, glaring out at the city through blood-red windows, the strangest urban artefact in a city which does not lack for architectural interest. The work of Brunton seems almost too appropriate for the combination of wild technological daring, Cold War paranoia, shabby corruption and crushed dreams that defined the Wilson era."


John Brunton and Partners designed much of Bradford's brutalist buildings such as Provincial House (now gone) and Arndale House on Market Street, as well as Bingley's former Bradford & Bingley headquarters.  High Point has been described by many as Soviet looking and with its position at one of the highest points (hence the name) looks like activities are in the building to keep us all under control.  In reality, it's just an empty office building.  The building is probably too unattractive for the modern office market, an alnteriative use would be good for the building to act as a landmark that can help define the city but in reality the building is probably too big and cumbersome for this.

High Point / Yorkshire Building Society - Bradford