The plot of land where Bradford’s new shopping centre will sit has gone from a quiet, unused hole in the ground to a buzzing construction site with the skeleton of the £260 million building starting to take shape.
Concrete lift shafts are in place, the steel framework for anchor tenants Debenhams and Marks and Spencer is in and more than 200 workers are scattered across the vast site working each day.
Westfield acquired the site in 2004 and planned to have the shopping centre opened by 2007, but the recession led to it being shelved, leaving many questioning its future.
In the new year, construction finally got under way and yesterday the man in charge said it was running to plan and within budget.
Keith Whitmore, head of design and construction for developer Westfield, said: “We’re progressing really well and we’ve made a lot of headway since early January when we made a concerted start on site after the pre-site works that we did just before Christmas.
“We’ve got a busy site now, we’ve got over 200 people on site today. We’ve put in over 2,000 cubic meters of concrete since January, over 200 piles have gone in the ground since January, 700 tonnes of steel has gone up as of today and there’s more on its way. So things are progressing really, really well here on site. The weather’s not been too good to us, but nevertheless we’ve still made really good progress.”
And the environment on site is just as upbeat as the pace of work, according to the projector director for Westfield, Mervyn Lowe.
“It’s a wonderful atmosphere and you can tell that the generations around us really appreciate what’s starting to be constructed and it really does make it a convivial place to work. It’s an exciting project, it’s really enjoyable,” he said, adding that working in the shadow of historic Bradford buildings was inspiring.
“The atmosphere of the whole genre of the surroundings is exciting.”
Remaining steelwork will take 18 weeks and then floors and walls will quickly start to appear. Mr Whitmore said everything was going to plan.
“It’s going well. To be honest, we’ve had lots of time to plan and think about and strategize this project and there’s been a lot of controversy about whether it would actually start on site, but here we are,” he said.
“We’re not thinking about today, we’re thinking about tomorrow, we’re thinking about next week, next month and the months ahead, so it’s on programme and it’s going well.”
Mr Whitmore said the speed of development and the changing landscape of the site was as a result of solid planning.
“The steel work, as you can imagine, has lots of nuts and bolts to it and its like a big Meccano set and frankly that’s a lot of design work that has to take place before it even arrives at site. But once it’s here, the hard work’s been done at the front end in terms of design. The second piece of that hard work is standing it up on site and it’s going together quite well, which makes us feel quite good about it and we’ve got all the bits and pieces in the right places and it’s going well.”
At the peak of construction, as different trades arrive on site, there will be 1,500 people working on the build.
“We’re employing local companies and we’re employing local people,” Mr Whitmore said.
“At the moment we’ve probably got something like 15 local companies working for us and there are more that we’re talking to for future contractors.”
Outside of the construction, many key retailers have signed up for the centre, including Debenhams, Marks and Spencer, Topshop, Topman and River Island.
“We’re on schedule and we’re going well and we hope to keep this good progress up throughout the project,” Mr Whitmore said.
“I’m extremely pleased. Things are going well.”
Bradford Council leader David Green was also at the site yesterday morning.
“The steelwork has been visible from outside for several weeks, but I think when you come on site and see all the other work that is hidden by the hoarding, you can see the real progress that is being made and I think it’s great the level of speed of development is going on. It’s something people probably really don’t appreciate and I didn’t appreciate until I walked on site today,” he said.
“This is really going to be a massive development and I don’t think it’s until you’re here on site that you get a real feel for it.”
He said he hoped people would now realise the development was being delivered, as promised.
Mr Lowe said: “The great thing about construction is that you leave a legacy for future generations and if it’s a positive legacy, all the better.”
The centre is due to open by December 2015.