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 cafĂ© 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