Small steps on long and winding road to Bradford's keenly awaited makeover

REGENERATION has been the talk of the town in Bradford for more than a decade.

Video special report: The millions spent on schemes left unstarted in Bradford's regeneration game

But despite years of major planning and publicity, critics say there has been too little action.

When the idea for an urban regeneration company was given the go-ahead in 2002, it was hailed as a "dynamic new mechanism" for championing Bradford.

Bradford Centre Regeneration tasked Will Alsop to provide a vision of how the city could be transformed.

The architect, whose plans for the North of England have also included re-branding Barnsley as a Tuscan village, developed a masterplan of how Bradford could look after 20 years of regeneration. His plans split the city into four neighbourhoods – The Bowl, The Valley, The Channel and The Market. While some of his ideas remain nothing more than that, one of the key elements of his plan has been taken forward.

Mr Alsop's most eye-catching idea was for a lake on the edge of City Hall. Although this has been scaled down to a drainable pool, councillors and regeneration bosses remained committed to the idea of bringing water into the city centre. Later this year a City Park with a mirror pool on the edge of Centenary Square is set to be completed. It will represent a major step in the city's regeneration as one of the few major schemes to be delivered.

In 2007, before the recession, Bradford Centre Regeneration identified six major projects as catalysts for growth: a shopping centre at Broadway, the Channel Urban Village – a residential development based around Alsop's vision for reinstating a canal basin, New Victoria Place – a mixed use development of offices, flats and a hotel on the site of the derelict Odeon Cinema building, moving the city's magistrates' court to a new home and delivering public realm improvements.

So far only one of the six has been achieved – improvements to the city's street scene. The City Park will be the second project to be finished, but even this had its complications.

Bradford missed out on cash from the Big Lottery fund three years ago, but the 24m scheme went ahead with money from Bradford Council, Yorkshire Forward, the Homes and Communities Agency and the Regional Transport Board.

The remaining schemes have yet to see any major development work. Buildings were demolished to make way for the Westfield Shopping Centre more than five years ago with 19m of taxpayers' money being spent preparing the site and altering the road network. However, a spokeswoman for the developer said it was not in a position to begin building work because it did not have enough retailers signed up. The site is currently being used as an urban garden.

Designs for New Victoria Place have been given planning permission subject to an agreement which is yet to be signed by the developers, Artisan Langtree, not to demolish the Odeon until they are in a position to start construction work. Bradford Council's assistant director of regeneration, Mike Cowlam, said he hoped building work at both Westfield and the Odeon site would start within two years.

The Channel Urban village development, featuring two towers 16 and 24 storeys high, was given planning permission in 2007 but was placed on hold more than two years ago.

Bradford Council says the economics of the plan did not stack up and needed to be scaled back. The final scheme was a plan to move the magistrates' court to create a new justice quarter and use the current site as a "business forest" next to the new city park to attract more employers into city centre office space. The project involved Yorkshire Forward funding and talks are now ongoing in light of the regional development agency's impending abolition.

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