Pressure is mounting on the Government to extend its funding of a scheme boosting jobs in Bradford city centre.
The City Centre Growth Zone, which began in 2012, was championed by Baroness Eaton in the House of Lords last week, who called for the Government to fund it for longer.
The Growth Zone aims to stimulate business growth by offering rate rebates as a reward to city-centre businesses which are creating new jobs, and is credited for helping to secure the Westfield development.
The scheme hopes to create 2,264 jobs through Westfield and 500 jobs elsewhere.
To date, 73 firms have successfully applied for rebates after promising to create a total of almost 300 jobs.
Of these, 152 of these jobs have been verified by Bradford Council and £579,000 of rebates have been granted.
The Growth Zone forms part of a £35 million joint investment by the Government’s regional growth fund and Bradford Council in the city centre, but is due to close for applications in December.
Opening a debate on Bradford in the Lords, Baroness Margaret Eaton (Con), a former leader of Bradford Council, said the city’s economy was on the upturn, but Government support would prove crucial in the coming years.
She said: “I therefore urge the Minister to extend Bradford’s City Centre Growth Zone from December 2014 to March 2017.”
The call has been welcomed by Bradford Council’s leader, Councillor David Green (Lab), who said the scheme was proving a success.
He said: “What we have got is something that works, and while I don’t think anybody is arguing that we would want it or need it necessarily forever, we have got a situation where the Bradford economy is making progress and we would want to continue to support the economy.”
Coun Green said he thought an extension until March 2017 was a “realistic ask”.
He said: “There’s no point asking any government for something that’s open-ended because no government can grant you that, whereas a realistic ask is one that says we want the Bradford economy to be self-sustaining – but we are not there yet.”
Coun Green said the Council was also lobbying the Government for an extension.
He said: “I think we have demonstrated that the scheme works and that the local economy is benefitting from it.
“We are continuing to push that with the powers-that-be down in Whitehall.”
Bradford Chamber of Commerce also backed Baroness Eaton’s call for an extension to the scheme.
President Paul Mackie said: “It’s good to know that Baroness Eaton is still batting for Bradford and keeping our issues alive in the halls of power.
“The Growth Zone is helping to repopulate the centre and therefore give it more life and vigour.
“We welcome Baroness Eaton’s contribution and hope that the Government will listen to her request.”
Listening to the debate in the Lords was Baroness Tina Stowell of Beeston, a Minister for the Department for Communities and Local Government.
She did not commit to an extension, but said she recognised the progress so far.
She said: “It is worth noting that growth in Bradford has outstripped regional and national averages since 2008.
“As has already been acknowledged, the first way in which we are helping in this area is through the regional growth fund.
“Projects in Bradford have secured almost £22 million, including about £17 million for the Council-led City Centre Growth initiative.”