BRADFORD West MP George Galloway has cancelled a meeting with the city’s Chamber of Commerce after its president criticised the Occupy Westfield protests as being “damaging” to the city’s reputation.
The Respect politician pulled out of the scheduled meeting later this month with Stephen Wright saying that “clearly Mr Wright and I have nothing polite to say to each other”.
His comments came after Mr Wright issued a statement in which he claimed that the sit-in protesters at the stalled-shopping development were “doing more harm than good” and were only serving to “undermine the activity being done to paint Bradford as a worthwhile place to invest”.
However Mr Galloway said that it was “rampant unemployment, a massive hole in the heart of the city and an iconic building done up in bubble wrap which are harming the image of Bradford”.
The Occupy Westfield protest – designed to bring attention to the lack of progress on the city’s shopping centre – has had the backing of the Respect Party, with several members having taken part in it.
Mr Galloway said: “Just ask businesses surrounding the Westfield hole how business has suffered since it was dug.
“I wholeheartedly support the occupation of the site as a way of drawing attention to the failure of this council and the developers to even lay one brick there, and as a way of putting pressure on both of them either to start the development or get out of the way and allow others with fresh ideas to take over.”
The Occupy Westfield protest is now in its second week, with around 40 Bradford residents having set up camp in the middle of the 10 acre hole where the shopping centre is planned to be built.
Protesters, displeased with the lack of progress on the construction, have been demanding meetings with politicians and are calling for a public inquiry. They also plan to meet city centre businesses today to see how they feel about the protest group’s actions.
Westfield took control of the site in 2004 and demolished large swathes of the city centre to make way for the £300m mixed use shopping centre and leisure development. It mothballed this scheme in 2009 and now has plans for a smaller shopping mall.
Although work has yet to begin on construction Westfield has consistently maintained it is committed to the scheme, a view supported by the Bradford Chamber and Bradford Council.