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.