A tunnel vision sees lost world brought back to life

THEY REMAINED forgotten and unused beneath a Yorkshire centre city for more than 50 years '“ with even the owners of the land unaware of their existence.

But now underground passageways near to Bradford’s City Hall that were bricked-up and backfilled in the 1950s have been resurrected and opened to the public after being converted into an ambitious retail and leisure development featuring bars, restaurants and shops.

Graham Hall, the founder of the £1.9m Sunbridgewells project – located next to Centenary Square and below Sunbridge Road – spent three years planning the project and a further three years on its construction, which was beset with delays. But the development was finally opened to the public on Saturday.

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Mr Hall said: “It’s been a very exciting project, it’s full of history and things that have been left behind – it’s like a living museum. It’s hard trying to raise £2m when you’ve got nothing – the investors must have believed in it.”

In the 1950s, fireplace manufacturers would return to store bricks and industrial waste in the tunnels. As it begun to fill up, walls were built with the materials behind, gradually filling the space.

A part of the tunnel was last in use in 1964 as the Little Fat Black Pussy Cat nightclub – which once hosted a performance from rock act The Pretty Things – but was closed down within a year. The Beatles themselves are also rumoured to have played an impromptu set in the tunnels after a gig at the nearby Odeon.

When buying the property, Mr Hall had to negotiate with six different landowners as the tunnels sprawled under different plots of land. He said the owners were not aware before that the tunnels even existed.

Bradford Chamber of Trade said the Sunbridgewells project is the latest phase of a renaissance in the city centre, which has included the opening of a large shopping centre and a resurgent bar and pub scene.

The Broadway centre, run by the retail giant, Westfield, opened in November last year after nearly a decade of delays that left a huge hole in the city centre when construction stalled during the recession.

A series of new bars and restaurants have opened in the upper part of the city centre, centred on North Parade, during the last five years.

Mr Hall said: “Sunbridgewells will enhance all the other bars in the area, it’s not about competition. In a sense the only way to improve a city is to bring people in.”

The development is intended to be its own “Victorian quarter” and to promote independent traders.

Bradford Chamber of Trade secretary Val Summerscales said: “It is an excellent project and it was long-awaited.

“We have looked at all the different sections and the Chamber of Trade is delighted and we think it is a fantastic addition to Bradford’s economy.

“It is something a little bit different, it has taken a lot of planning, patience and it’s something you might not find in other towns and cities.

“People are starting to come back into Bradford. Everyone involved in business in the city centre has worked very hard to pull everything together and we are seeing the fruition of the last five years of work. The Broadway has been the catalyst in bringing people in, but then they are able to see all the other aspects of Bradford to enjoy.”

A second phase of the development, which will include an Indian restaurant and another pub, is due to be finished in the summer of next year.