Calls were made last night for a cross-party task force to be set up to revive Bradford city centre as a bleak week ended with coffee shop giant Starbucks confirming that it is pulling out of Waterstones bookshop at the Wool Exchange after more than 15 years.
It comes hot on the heels of the closure of photographic shop Jessops; music store HMV, which has a branch in Broadway, going into administration, and outdoor wear supplier Milletts closing its Darley Street store in March.
The high street losses have led Bradford West MP George Galloway to call for Bradford Council to form a task force to highlight the problems nationally and seek a solution, including employing specialist lobbyists in Whitehall to raise the district’s profile.
The Respect MP said that he would support the Council if it led on such a campaign to engage local businesses, residents and councillors.
“They need to press the Bradford cause with the national Government,” he said.
“You cannot allow an important part of your city to become a black hole. It needs mass participation. I give you this pledge if Coun Green leads such a campaign we will fall in behind.”
Bradford South MP Gerry Sutcliffe (Lab), welcomed the idea. He said: “We should sell the city as a centre of cultural, media and sport, with the National Media Museum, the Alhambra and the Bulls and Bradford City.
Shipley MP Philip Davies (Con) said: “It is essential that this is resolved straight away or we will see the death of Bradford city centre by a thousand cuts.”
But David Ward, the Bradford East MP, called on Mr Galloway, as the city centre MP, to stop demanding that others do all the work. He also pointed out that shoppers’ habits had changed markedly.
“We need to make Bradford an interesting place to shop,” he said.
Council leader Dave Green said that he would listen to Mr Galloway’s ideas, but stressed that the closures were all part of a national picture.
“These are all national companies affected by a national economic situation, not a Bradford issue,” he said.
“Regenerations 15 to 20 years ago had significant national public investment going on. We have secured the Regional Growth Fund to help bring more business in. I would be interested to hear Mr Galloway’s ideas because he certainly has not put that to me.”
Val Summerscales, Bradford’s Chamber of Trade secretary, said: “Retailers have struggled for the last two to three years and the bottom line is we need customers and footfall in the city centre. This is the impact of internet and out of town shopping centres.”
Up to 20 jobs are believed to be affected at Starbucks’ Waterstones branch and its last day will be February 7, according to one source.
A Starbucks spokesman confirmed the closure but said it had no plans to shut its branch in Centenary Square.
He said: “We’re working closely with our partner employees and hope to be able to redeploy the majority of them to other Starbucks stores.”
Starbucks regular Sam Roper, 19, who works in the city centre, said he saw stunned staff being told of the closure.
“They were being asked to sign bits of paper saying they acknowledged if they could not be found jobs in Starbucks stores elsewhere they might be made redundant. You could see the staff were in shock,” he said.