It’s a rather cold, misty day in Bradford this morning, but, within the next few minutes (as I write this), The Broadway Bradford will open. It marks the end of a long, painful chapter in Bradford’s recent history, and, hopefully, will start a new chapter with a brighter future for the city.
17 years in the making
Plans for a new shopping centre in Bradford city centre were first published in 1998. Bradford already had a shopping centre – the Kirkgate Centre, which was one of the original Arndale Centres – but this one would see the replacement of a rather run-down area of the city with a bright new mall. Approval was granted, and demolition of the site commenced in 2004 in the area around Broadway, Cheapside and Forster Square.
And then… nothing. The developers, now bought out by the Australian firm Westfield, didn’t have enough interest from retailers to take the scheme forward. So, the site was left with piles of rubble, a huge hole in the ground, and no sign of construction beginning. 4 years later, and in 2008 the global credit crunch hit. The scheme was formally put on hold, as high street shops such as Woolworths and Zavvi went into administration. BHS, whose store had been demolished to make way for the Broadway centre, decided not to be part of the new scheme, leaving even more vacant space for Westfield to fill.
By the time 2010 had rolled around, some preliminary work had taken place, but the scheme still wasn’t viable. Bradford Council were losing patience with Westfield, however, were effectively powerless due to the contract signed which would put severe financial penalties on the council.
Discussions of alternative schemes included a new railway viaduct linking Bradford’s two stations, but these came to nothing.
A temporary urban garden
With the economy still week and no start date in sight, the council and Westfield decided to move back some of hoardings around the site, and create a temporary ‘urban garden’. Grass was sown and footpaths laid, so that people could use the site on an interim basis. Signs around the perimeter made it clear that this was temporary and the footpaths were not public rights of way. After a couple of years though, the garden was essentially abandoned – planters became overgrown and maintenance stopped.
A breakthrough finally came in early 2014 – almost 10 years after demolition had started. Westfield had reached a deal with property management firm Meyer Bergman to sell the site, although Westfield would still operate the centre. Crucially, that made the money needed for construction available, and work started soon after, albeit on a scaled-down scheme than originally planned. Today, the centre finally opens.
Something old, something new
Whilst there are a number of stores, such as H&M, Debenhams, Jack Jones, Superdry and others which are new to the city, there will be a number of shops which are moving into the Broadway centre from elsewhere in the city. These include Marks and Spencer, WHSmith, Boots, River Island, all of whom have reasonably large existing shops. Once these are vacated, there will be a number of big, empty shop units elsewhere in the city centre, including quite a few in the Kirkgate Centre. I hope that these will be filled with new shops before too long, but I’m not too confident. The Broadway centre’s long gestation period meant that Bradford has had a poor shopping offer for many years and I worry about a decrease in footfall in the rest of the city centre – which was low to start with.
Technically Debenhams isn’t new to Bradford but their previous shop on Manningham Lane was destroyed by fire in the 1970s.
Westfield has two other big shopping centres in London, at White City and Stratford, and its branding is really clear on these two malls, as it was on their centre in Derby before it was sold to Intu. Whilst it has been known as the ‘Westfield Bradford’ site during development, it’s now called ‘The Broadway Bradford’ with the Westfield branding de-emphasised. I don’t know whether this is because it’s now a joint project between Westfield and Meyer Bergman, or whether Westfield feels that the local population have a poor view of its brand. During its time as a big hole in the ground, it gained the nickname ‘Wastefield’.
Paying to park
The Broadway includes a large car park, which is welcome, but its charges are rather steep: £2 for the first hour and £1 for each subsequent hour. There are many other, cheaper car parks nearby, and it’s cheaper than public transport, but I wonder whether this will put people off. Especially as other shopping centres, like the White Rose Centre, have free car parking.
I’m looking forward to the shopping centre opening, not at least because it’s good to finally have some good news in Bradford. I really hope that it results in a major turnaround in the city’s fortunes, and brings in people who would otherwise travel to Leeds or other towns. And I hope that it hasn’t come too late. We shall see.