CITY leaders hope the decision by developer Westfield yesterday to finally begin construction of a £260m shopping complex in Bradford will be the catalyst for a wider revival of the city centre.
In a move welcomed by the Prime Minister, Westfield confirmed construction work will begin in earnest in January with the centre, to be known as Bradford Broadway, open in time for Christmas 2015.
The decision comes almost six years after Westfield mothballed the site. leaving the city centre scarred by what became known as the “hole in the ground”, and 15 years since a new shopping centre was first mooted.
Around 1,500 jobs are expected to be created during construction with 2,500 jobs available in the centre when it opens.
The green light for the scheme follows intensive discussions with Bradford Council and the Government which has part-funded a “growth zone” offering incentives to businesses which move into the city centre.
Prime Minister David Cameron said: “I am delighted to hear of the implementation of the £260m Broadway Project.
“Projects like these stand as a great example to others to show that the regional growth fund has been used to attract the necessary private sector investment to deliver significant and positive change in our cities.”
Leading retailers Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, Next, River Island and Top Shop have already committed to opening in the centre with Westfield estimating more than half of the floor space is already let.
Speaking at the site yesterday, council leader David Green said: “This sends out a signal about confidence in Bradford, it sends out a message that people can come to Bradford and invest working with the council and other private sector partners and we will see, I think, a growth in the city’s economy on the back of today’s announcement and a growth in interest in investing in Bradford.
“It isn’t a solution to the challenges we face in Bradford but it is a major step forward along that road.”
Both Westfield and the council have faced criticism since work came to a halt at the site in 2008 as the credit crunch bit and the appetite for investment in new retail developments disappeared.
A huge swathe of buildings had already been demolished and the decision to bring work to a halt left a large section of the city centre as a boarded-up building site.
Duncan Bower, director of development at Westfield, said: “We don’t want to be too celebratory about this because this is the restart of construction that ceased for a period of time a few years ago and the celebration should really come at the end when we open.
“We are a company that want to do things, mothballing a site really does not help us. However we understand people’s frustration with those kind of events but I can reassure people in Bradford nobody has been more frustrated than Westfield.
“It has taken time, we appreciate their patience and now we just want to get on and complete the job.”
Property investment fund Meyer Bergman has bought the site and will own the shopping centre when it is built with Westfield overseeing construction and its management once it is open.
Bradford East MP David Ward said: “This was always about far more than just a shopping centre.
“We know it has had an adverse effect on the will and spirit of the people in Bradford and it was about restoring that confidence and faith that Bradford had a future.
“I think it was a victim of the recession the like of which we have never seen before and this happened to be in a very bad place at a very bad time. Without the recession this would have been built by now, I don’t think that is in any doubt, but that is in the past.
“What a wonderful boost this will provide, creating jobs directly but also indirectly in terms of the whole of the change of the atmosphere and the belief in the future of Bradford.”
Decisions that may herald a revival
Westfield’s decision to go-ahead with the Broadway shopping centre is the latest in a series of decisions this year that will shape the future of Bradford city centre.
A campaign to save the National Media Museum from the threat of closure was rewarded in June when the Government reviewed its spending on musuems so that the Science Museum Group could continue to fund it.
Last month, the council also agreed the £1 purchase of the former Bradford Odeon building bringing the end of the longrunning saga over its future a step closer.
The authority has invited groups to come forward with proposals for the building before the end of January.