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.
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.