Bradford should be inspired by its progress 20 years on from trauma of 2001 riots - Council leader Susan Hinchcliffe

Susan Hinchcliffe is the leader of Bradford Council.

Children playing in the fountains in City Park, Centenary Square, Bradford. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

Looking out across the city skyline last week, it occurred to me how much Bradford is changing. I was at St James’s Market, speaking to journalists alongside Tracy Brabin, the Mayor of West Yorkshire and Jim McMahon, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport about our plans for a new high-speed train station for the city centre.

It’s an investment which would bring billions of pounds and thousands of jobs into our economy. This, along with other projects in our pipeline, the One City Park business complex, the £23m Darley Street Market, the Bradford Live entertainment venue, and the 1,000-home City Village development, point to a future of great hope and opportunity.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Bradford has come a long way since the riots of July 2001, a traumatic episode which scarred the city and its reputation. Part of a wave of civil disorder that swept through northern towns, the images of violent unrest were burned into public perceptions of Bradford and lasted long after the fires were extinguished. It has taken an enormous, sustained effort by the city’s civic and business leaders to make progress on underlying issues of poverty, racism and inequality and to rebuild the city’s self-belief. After two decades, I know we still have plenty of work to do but I also think we can be genuinely proud of the city’s achievements.

The Duchess of Cambridge meets people in Bradford during the royal visit in January 2020. Picture: Simon Hulme.

Let us not forget the Royal visit of January 2020 when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge came to meet the entrepreneurs, apprentices, charity workers, faith leaders and volunteers dedicated to improving the quality of life in our district. “I think what you are all doing to help each other and bring the community together is very powerful,” Prince William is reported to have said during their stay.

“You can see that communities are trying to come together, trying to help each other, get to know each other and that is really crucial. If we can replicate that more across the country, then it can only be for good.” To me, this was a Royal stamp of approval that we are on the right path.

Like all big cities, Bradford continues to face challenges, keeping people safe, promoting integration and stimulating the economy to give everyone the chance to realise their potential. Our focus on common goals and shared values – respect for the law and for others, free speech, good education, homes and jobs – has helped us manage the risk of tensions arising from local, national and international issues.

We have led the way with policies for promoting cohesion such as schools linking and inter-faith dialogue. We are far from complacent and work closely in partnership with the police, local agencies and communities to identify and deal with concerns and potential sources of conflict. This approach, rooted among our communities, helped Bradford to avoid any unwelcome repeats when riots erupted across major towns and cities in the summer of 2011.

As Covid cases rose across the UK last autumn, England’s chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty praised Bradford, our fantastic council workers and wonderful local NHS for showing “superb leadership” in response to the crisis.

External perceptions of Bradford have changed for the better, led by the redevelopment of the city centre with the award-winning City Park in 2012 and the long-awaited Broadway shopping centre in 2015.

In February 2020, The Sunday Times named Bradford as one of the best places in Britain to run a business, pointing to our young population, low commercial rents, good road infrastructure, ongoing regeneration, fast broadband and the University of Bradford. This winning combination helped to persuade PwC, the professional services giant, to open a national assurance centre in the city, now its fastest-growing office.

Film and TV crews have flocked here for our world-class heritage locations and to tap into our young and diverse talent pool for storytelling that resonates with a global audience. Dame Helen Mirren, who was filming here last year, paid a heartfelt tribute to “the one and only Bradford and its own magic”. We hope this magic will help us become the UK City of Culture 2025.

Our pipeline of new projects shows investors that Bradford is ambitious and open for business. I don’t underestimate the scale of our challenges, but they are no greater than other big cities.

The people of Bradford district should be inspired by the progress we have made since that long-ago summer of 2001.

With such drive and ambition we just need to go further and faster.