The Little Germany area of the city centre is home to dozens of listed buildings, the Bradford Playhouse theatre and the city’s cathedral, and is just yards from the multi million pound Broadway shopping centre – but is widely seen as falling far short of its potential.
Currently around a third of its buildings are empty, and many of the recent developments there have involved buildings being converted into small, low cost flats.
Now it has been suggested that the historic area of the city be designated a “Heritage Action Zone” – which could attract investment and targeted intervention to improve the area.
The proposals are included in the Bradford Economic Recovery Plan – a document drawn up to help the District recover from the post Covid economic recession.
The plan says the designation “has the potential to transform the creative quarter from what is currently a low value site into a regional creative centre.”
Suggestions for the area include a link up to the proposed West Yorkshire Mass Transit route, encouraging cultural and creative industries to set up in vacant heritage buildings in the area and reposition Bradford Playhouse as a “cultural anchor” that could boost Bradford’s City of Culture bid.
The plan would encourage more “street level” businesses – shops and bars as well as offices, and make better use of the limited public space in the area.
The plan also says “low traffic neighbourhoods” could be introduced in some parts of Little Germany.
Little Germany dates back to 1850s, when Bradford was a world leader in the wool trade, and known as “worstedopolis.”
Many of the buildings were built by textile merchants from Europe – giving rise to the name Little Germany.
Much of the area remains almost untouched since then, with many of the buildings protected through being listed, and through the area being designated a Conservation Area.
Recent years have seen Freeman Grattan set up a new headquarters in one of the area’s many listed buildings, the unveiling of a huge mural of David Hockney, made out of tens of thousands of nails, and the announcement that a new Coroner’s Court will be opening in a building on Cater Street.
And crews have descended on the area to film scenes for TV shows such as Gentleman Jack and Downton Abbey.
However, other proposals for the area have failed to materialise.
In 2014 an application to turn a listed building on Well Street into a 55-bedroom hotel with a ground floor restaurant were approved by Bradford Council, but the plans never came to fruition.
Similarly, an application to turn College Mill, a building most recently used as a carpet workshop, into a restaurant that would “draw in crowds from all over England” was approved in 2018 – yet the building remains empty.
At the same time many office buildings in the area have been converted into flats, often under “permitted development” laws introduced by the Government to make development easier, but which also mean Bradford Council has no powers over the size or type of housing being created.
The Bradford Recovery Plan says the Heritage Action Zone designation could add more urgency to Little Germany’s regeneration, and that it could become a “regional creative centre” that would boost the area’s economy as well as “improving the visitor and citizen experience.”
Si Cunningham, Chairman of Bradford Civic Society, said: “Basically the aim of a Heritage Action Zone is to breathe new life into an old place, something that I think a lot of people will agree is what’s needed in Little Germany. Heritage Action Zones bring in ditional national funding and very targeted expertise.
“There’s quite a few around the UK already, and the role of a HAZ varies wildly depending on the state of a place. For some areas it’s all about refurbishing long-derelict buildings, but for others it’s more about kick-starting new uses or helping to promote an historic quarter.
“My gut tells me Little Germany is more suited to the latter approaches, as it’s in such a great condition already. What I’d like to see in Little Germany is an emphasis on high quality.
“We need to take steps to halt the proliferation of cheap flat conversions, and then make street-level properties far more attractive for digital and creative companies. Getting the conditions right for business to thrive is crucial.”
The council has said it will allocate officers from its conservation team to look at the feasibility of appointing the area as a Heritage Action Zone.
Coun Dave Green (Lab, Wibsey) used to chair the Little Germany Urban Village Partnership, and said the goals of the HAZ seemed very similar to that organisation. He said: “The idea is to utilise the absolutely stunning buildings and try to ensure that it is a mixed use area.
“It is about implementing residential, business and leisure, so the area has a street life as well as an economic life. What hasn’t happened really since Grattan moved in is any new major economic use there has been nothing new really in terms of leisure or recreation.
’The problem has been so many buildings are being developed for residential use. We’re gradually losing the opportunity to really make Little Germany a thriving community.”