PROTESTERS are occupying the site of a stalled shopping centre development in Bradford, demanding a public inquiry into the lack of progress.
Around 50 people, aligning themselves with the Occupy movement which staged anti-capitalism protests around the world earlier this year, gained access to the site of the proposed Westfield shopping centre on Saturday afternoon after apparently being given a key by a council worker sympathetic to their frustration.
Plans for the shopping centre were first discussed in 1998 and huge demolition work was carried out across the site between 2004 and 2006, levelling scores of buildings and clearing a 10-acre hole in the city centre.
Since then the project continually failed to get off the ground and Westfield, which took control of the site in 2004, mothballed the scheme in 2009.
It submitted a much smaller planning application last year but work is still yet to begin, with neither the council or Westfield able to give a definitive start date.
Those in attendance are demanding an audience with the city’s leaders and a public inquiry into “why Bradford has been left devastated by Bradford Council and Westfield”. The group said it would remain on the Westfield site for seven days or until its demands were met.
The protesters include several members of the Respect Party which has gained a foothold in the city since George Galloway won the Bradford West by-election earlier this year.
Mr Galloway, who attended the protest on Saturday, made the Westfield debacle one of the key issues in his campaign and has written to David Cameron calling upon him to intervene.
However, a spokesman for Respect said the occupation protest was not purely from the party but involved people from all walks of Bradford life.
A statement from the occupiers said: “The current state of Bradford city centre is unacceptable, businesses are closing, consumers will not come into the city for lack of choice and lack of occupied buildings, regeneration has been at a standstill for many years – this cannot be allowed to continue.”
Alias Yousaf, a solicitor with Bradford law firm Chambers which has been providing legal advice to the protesters, told the Yorkshire Post the group gained access legally using a key provided by “somebody sympathetic within Bradford Council”.
“Officers from the police attended but after we showed them the key they were happy enough that no offence had been committed,” he said.
“It really is just a matter between us and Westfield. We have no intention of committing any offences or damaging anything.”
A spokesman for West Yorkshire Police said: “It is a peaceful protest from city residents. We are not aware of any problems.”
The group has plans to erect a large marquee opposite the office of the city’s local paper the Telegraph & Argus, for the public to come and speak to them to learn more of what they are doing. David Green, leader of the council, told the Yorkshire Post: “I am always happy to meet with people. They did not need to occupy the site, they could have just rung me up.”
He said he recognised the frustration of Bradfordians on the issue but added that Westfield was still in negotiations with prospective tenants.
“The information I have got is that progress is being made and we will continue to work with them.”
Attempts to contact Westfield proved fruitless.