14,000 sign petition supporting Bradford shopping centre occupation

The occupation of the site of a stalled shopping centre development in Bradford could be set to continue after drawing large support from the general public.

The Occupy Westfield protest, which began last week in response to the continued delays in building a new shopping centre, was due to come to a conclusion today.

A solicitor providing legal advice to the protesters has told the Yorkshire Post, however, they may consider staying on due to the amount of goodwill the Bradford public had shown them.

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Alias Yousaf, of Chambers Solicitors, said a petition calling upon Westfield to provide a start date had attracted 14,000 signatures and that members of the public were donating on average £100 a day to help feed those occupying the site.

But the support for the occupation appears to be far from universal, with the city’s Chamber of Commerce issuing a statement stating that the protest may be counterproductive.

A meeting is being held today in which a decision will be made as to whether to remain on the site.

Mr Yousaf told the Yorkshire Post: “It is very much a wait and see situation. The amount of people we have come down to the site to support the occupation has been overwhelming.

“The support from the public and local businesses has been simply fantastic, providing food and water to us. We really need to decide if we want this to end or not.”

Westfield did write to the protest group earlier in the week accusing them of trespassing but Mr Yousaf denied this was the case.

“We have written back saying that we are not trespassing as we have a key from a person within Bradford Council. No crime has been committed.”

Mr Yousaf added that spirits remained high despite cooler weather.

Westfield, developer of shopping malls all over the world, has had plans to build a shopping centre in Bradford for nearly a decade but has continually refused to issue a start-date for construction. It demolished large parts of the city centre in 2006 but since then a 10-acre hole has lain where the shops should be.

The occupiers had demanded a meeting with the city’s leaders at the site and for a public inquiry to be carried out in to the city’s troubled regeneration programme.

David Green, the leader of Bradford Council said he would have been happy to meet with the protesters and that they did not need to occupy the site.

Bradford Chamber of Commerce said that, while it understands the frustration that has led to the occupation, the increased publicity damages rather than helps the prospects for the scheme.

Its president Stephen Wright said he is convinced Westfield is “doing all it possibly can to secure retailers to sign up to the scheme”.

“Actions like those of the occupiers are counter-productive to those aims and undermine the activity being done to paint Bradford as a worthwhile place in which to invest.

“Yes, we would all liked things to have happened sooner but the property sector has struggled more than most during the recession and is even now only slowly shaking off the difficulties.

“However, now that Bradford has secured monies from central government’s Regional Growth Fund, it is looking at how that can be used to attract investment, including city centre retailers.

“That funding needs to be allocated and we believe that Westfield will be in a position soon to set out a clearer time-frame for construction to commence on site.”

The Yorkshire Post was told no-one was available for comment by Westfield.