I expect the people of Bradford breathed a sigh of relief when workmen finally returned to the site of Westfield Bradford earlier this month. This will see a new Westfield shopping centre being built, which will be the only one in the north of England (we’ll place Derby in the Midlands).
The shopping centre is due to open in time for Christmas 2015, by which point it will have been almost 12 years in the making. Demolition of the existing buildings on the site started in 2004, and was done by 2006. There followed many months where the remaining rubble was piled up and no activity, but around 2007 preparatory works began to dig a large hole for the foundations.
But after the foundations were constructed, nothing. The credit crunch, and then the recession, put paid to any further progress. The whole project was effectively mothballed. The situation was so bad that in 2010, the local council, with a financial contribution from Westfield, turned part of the park into a ‘temporary urban garden’ as there was no prospect of work starting any time soon.
All this time, the rest of Bradford’s city centre suffered. The recession didn’t help, taking with it a number of shops, but the range and quality of shops in Bradford has declined over the past 10 years. There are a large number of vacant units, and many of those that are occupied are by pop-up shops on short-term lets. There’s also been an explosion of pawnbrokers, payday loan shops and betting shops.
Last year, Trinity Leeds opened in Leeds. Though it too was mothballed for some time during its construction, it’s now open and successful, and has no doubt made Leeds an even more compelling retail destination than Bradford.
Whilst I really hope the opening of Westfield Bradford will be a turning point, and help Bradford get back on its feet, I can’t help but feel that it’s perhaps too late. What if the decline of Bradford’s city centre is actually terminal?
I’m also concerned that Westfield will kill off other parts of the city. Bradford’s existing shopping centre, the Kirkgate Centre, has generally coped well over the years, but has lost a couple of major tenants as some of the larger chain stores went under. Now it too has more than its fair share of poorer quality stores, including a recently extended Poundland. It’s also home to River Island and WHSmith, two confirmed tenants of the new Westfield centre. Marks and Spencer is opposite the Kirkgate Centre and will be an ‘anchor’ tenant in Westfield.
Still, overall I hope that Westdfield is a success. It’s a shame that a once prosperous city like Bradford has fallen so far. Not only has it dropped behind Leeds, but the smaller nearby towns of Halifax and Huddersfield, both of which have (in my opinion) a better range of shops.