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Council leaders on regeneration of Bradford city centre and the ‘catalyst’ for vital change
Nearly eight years ago, the Telegraph & Argus jointly interviewed Bradford Council’s then Conservative leader Kris Hopkins and the authority’s new chief executive Tony Reeves. The emphasis then was on talking less and delivering more.
Hopkins, now a Coalition Government Minister, spoke about getting rid of Bradford Vision and making regeneration in-house. Similarly, he wanted to reclaim education as a local government responsibility.
Tony Reeves said he had given himself seven years to help transform Bradford and declared his confidence that Westfield’s shopping mall would go ahead the following year.
Since October, 2006, all those things have come to pass. About Westfield, Mr Reeves was wrong only about the timing. But then the Credit Crunch had yet to impact upon the world’s economies, followed by, in Bradford’s case, more than £200m of budget cuts.
“We did get Westfield on site, but I didn’t foresee the deepest recession for 100 years,” Mr Reeves said. He was speaking in the office of Labour Councillor David Green who, for the last four years, has been Council leader.
“I think the shopping centre will be the catalyst for other things. In a couple of weeks we will see steel structures coming out of the ground. We want to make sure that local companies get a piece of the action.
“Obviously Westfield will be bringing in their own specialists, but in the construction stage there will be 1,500 jobs. When the shopping centre opens before Christmas next year, there will be between two to 2,500 jobs, not all full-time but permanent,” Mr Reeves added.
Councillor Green has said before that Westfield should not be regarded as Bradford’s ultimate salvation. He knows that between now and 2021 Bradford needs to generate 31,000 new jobs to absorb the number of school leavers who will be hoping for fruitful work.
“Westfield is a piece of the jigsaw, not the whole jigsaw,” he said. “The Council’s job is to put all the straight edges of the jigsaw together so that other people can fill in the picture.
“One of the problems about regeneration is that it doesn’t happen overnight. If we just wanted a Wild West development, we could get that fairly quickly, but we want something that’s sustainable, not a one club approach like call centres were in the 1990s.
“Too often we slip into talking about this building or that building; but regeneration is also about the 525,000 people who live here and their communities.”
Eight years ago, regeneration was in the hands of an unaccountable private company. Since then the penny has dropped that regeneration, making a positive difference in terms of jobs, opportunities and expectations, cannot happen without a degree of people empowerment.
Tony Reeves said: “You cannot regenerate a city in spite of its citizens. If people don’t love their city and respond to it, you will not regenerate a city like Bradford.
“People have been so vehement in their complaints because they want to see Bradford succeed. We’ve never lost sight that we are here for the people of Bradford.”
For Coun Green, that means doing, not talking. “I am not a great lover of 300-page strategies,” he said. “If it’s right, let’s do it, as quickly as possible. Bradford has spent too much time talking and providing glossy brochures. If this council ever sits down and says ‘job done!’, it deserves to get knocked out of office.”
The Council’s recent budget amendments took account of public protests about youth service cuts and social amenity closures. Will the same consideration apply to those people worried about the future of greenfield sites?
Coun Green said: “We do try to listen, but the Local Development Framework is bound by legal constraints. We have to provide land for housing and for employment, bearing in mind the need to create 31,000 jobs. But there’s got to be a balance.”
Mr Reeves said if the Council were to somehow “fudge” the issue in terms of the National Planning Framework, developers would appeal against planning decisions to demonstrate why the Council had not made enough land available.
“We have to apply the national legislation, but we have to get the balance right between brownfield sites for urban regeneration and housing. The vast majority of people will have problems with some of these things,” he admitted.