Blackfriar: Tale of two cities as pair have contrasting retail fortunes

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The fact that Land Securities has pre-let almost two thirds of the £350m city centre Trinity Leeds shopping centre is an astonishing feat in the current economic climate.

To be two thirds let more than two years before the opening date is a testament to the fact that retailers trust Land Securities to come up with the goods.

Some 57 per cent of the landmark development is now let to retailers, up from 47 per cent in November.

Trinity Leeds, which will open in Spring 2013, has let 45 per cent of the space and another 12 per cent is in solicitors' hands.

A further eight per cent is at an advanced stage of negotiations, bringing the scheme up to 65 per cent on the way to being let.

When Land Securities was forced to mothball the one million sq ft retail development in 2009 as confidence among retailers slumped, it promised that it was committed to the scheme and it would go ahead with it once the market picked up.

One year later Trinity Leeds became the first major retail development in the UK to get the go-ahead since the credit crunch hit.

Leading retailers, including Marks & Spencer, Boots, Next, Top Shop, River Island, Oasis, Bhs and H&M, have kept faith with the scheme and are signed up to open stores.

It's a very different story nine miles down the road at Bradford where the 320m Westfield shopping centre has been mothballed with no sign of work starting any time soon.

Westfield's website promises that the redevelopment of the Broadway site will "transform shopping in Bradford", yet there is no news about when work will actually start.

Even attempts to turn the Bradford site, which has been renamed "Wastefield" by locals, into "Bradford's Urban Garden" at a cost of 300,000 have come a cropper.

The site has been hit by flooding and estimates suggest it could cost 30,00 for new drainage and pipes.

So how can two cities just nine miles apart be in such contrasting positions?

One obvious suggestion is that Bradford has lagged behind Leeds in terms of development over the past few years and retailers would rather be in Leeds, but analysts say this is simply not the case.

Retailers would love to get a foothold in a prestigious new retail development in Bradford.

Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, Next and Arcadia have all expressed an interest in opening stores at the Broadway site.

The area north of Bradford around Skipton is a haven for wealthy people who are eschewing Bradford in favour of the shopping destinations in Leeds, Harrogate and York.

These are people who would much rather do the short journey to Bradford, especially at a time when petrol prices are going through the roof.

So why does Bradford have a flooded urban garden while prospective shoppers are flocking to Trinity Leeds to see how the work is progressing?

The answer lies with the developer.

When Land Securities mothballed Trinity Leeds it gave clear answers to retailers and the local populace about its plans for the future. It has fulfilled its promises and won the trust of both the city and the retailers in question.

However, Westfield has been far from clear about its plans for Bradford.

The Australian developer has taken on other projects instead of Bradford.

First it was the Westfield Derby shopping centre, which gained priority over the Broadway development.

It then threw its might at the landmark 1.6bn Westfield London, the largest shopping centre in Greater London, which has been greeted by huge acclaim – although this probably means little to the people of Bradford.

Then the timing of the 2012 London Olympics meant that work on the adjacent Westfield Stratford City took precedent. The plan is to open the Stratford development this year.

Then of course the recession hit and there is no sign of when work will start at Bradford, if it does start.

Westfield said it is still working on the Bradford project, but said it has no timescale.

All this is scant compensation to the citizens of Bradford.

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