Turning the city centre into an ‘Enterprise Zone’ would breath new life into a planned £1 billion pipeline of investment in the city centre, it was claimed today.

A fresh air of confidence is emanating from City Hall over Bradford’s ambitions to kick-start the city centre economy.

In the past few years the city has been characterised by boarded-up businesses, while a huge hole fills the space where a £320 million shopping centre should stand.

Many proposed schemes have been floated, many have stalled, many have never begun – perpetuating a loss of investor confidence in the city which has become all too apparent.

But regeneration chiefs believe it is now the time for significant change.

They say creating the region’s only Enterprise Zone (EZ) across 147 hectares (363 acres) of Bradford city centre is the best way to achieve that goal.

The designation would also help to unleash a £1 billion pipeline of planned possible investment in the city centre, including New Victoria Place, a central business forest and the Broadway shopping centre.

Councillor Dave Green, Bradford Council’s portfolio holder for regeneration, certainly believes a zone in Bradford would “unlock the full economic potential of the city.”

If agreed, it would cover an area from the University Quarter in the west to Little Germany in the east, and would trigger a new wave of confidence, said Coun Green.

He points out that the district remains the second largest economy in the Leeds City Region, itself the country’s largest regional economy outside London.

An enterprise zone would give a generous boost to the region’s £51 billion economy as well as generating an estimated £11.4 million in business rates by 2015 – £290 million over 25 years for Bradford.

That is because Bradford Council would be able to offer a full business rate discount to employers who move into or invest in the area up to a maximum of five years or to £275,000.

Any additional business rates from the zone over 25 years will be ploughed back into the regional economy.

It will also make it easier for businesses to expand because of streamlined planning rules for those within the zone’s boundaries.

Estimates show that the major investment would create an additional 5,265 jobs by the end of 2015 in a city which currently attracts business commuters from Kirklees, Calderdale, Craven and Harrogate.

Already, there is scope for £1 billion of investment in the city centre – including plans for the New Victoria Place scheme on the site of the former Odeon and a central business district.

And, in the past week, Westfield, the developers behind the Broadway shopping centre, have also started to make positive noises.

A spokesman for the Australian developer told the Telegraph & Argus that it was back in talks with retailers about re-starting the mothballed shopping centre project.

It has identified the Bradford scheme as one of 18 projects – totalling £6.75 billion in the UK, US, Australia and New Zealand – where “pre-development activity” is taking place.

Retailers moving to the Broadway site, which has been turned into an urban garden, would benefit from even more investment the zone would create.

Other developments such as the award-winning Southgate development also show that there is a need for top quality office space in the city centre, said Coun Green.

However, he said no building work would be needed to realise the “vast majority” of the £1 billion in planned investment.

Space is already available for businesses to move in, leading to £611,000 in added business rates from existing property.

“There is a range of options for investment,” said Coun Green. “The zone has the infrastructure in place to be operational from April 2012 and contains the range of cultural, residential and environmental assets you need to attract and retain people and businesses.

“The ripple effect would be clear. A vibrant and successful city centre would drive the economy of the rest of the district and the wider city region.”

Despite the strength of Bradford’s offer it still has to overcome some hurdles before a zone can be created – notably, rival bids from other areas of the Leeds City Region. Earlier this month, the Leeds City Region’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) board drew up a short list including the Aire Valley in Leeds, Selby, and the Wakefield M62 Corridor.

A spokesman for the partnership said bids were chosen on the basis of the scale of each zone, the quality of what would be delivered and what it would cost to set up.

A private sector-led task group will analyse more detailed proposals for the sites and make recommendations to the next LEP board meeting in mid-June. Their recommendations will take into account whether setting up a zone in Bradford or elsewhere would simply displace businesses from outside the zone.

Coun Green said he was “aware of concerns” over a Bradford zone taking away business from surrounding areas.

But he said: “The Bradford enterprise zone would create a significant pot of money very quickly, which can be re-invested to support business growth and new business start-ups outside of the zone. We could complement what Leeds offers by drawing on our past and present entrepreneurial tradition, creating, making and trading for the modern world.

“We will still be able to grow the local economy and make a valuable contribution to the city region without the city centre becoming an enterprise zone but the benefits it brings would mean improvements come a lot faster and on a far more significant scale.

“The increased confidence generated by becoming an enterprise zone would help to unlock the full economic potential of the city centre.”