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Why it’s make or break time for Bradford
5:16pm Tuesday 5th May 2009 in Our View
Our report today revealing Bradford Council's decision to do away with the city's urban regeneration company, BCR, and take responsibility for that agenda back on to its own shoulders will give many cause for concern.
The URC was established in the first place because of Bradford Council's inertia in the field of regeneration. In the days when Leeds was establishing its Development Corporation and politicians of all shades were working together to drag that city into the future under the “financial capital of the north” banner, Bradford Council thought it was clever enough to go it alone.
What did it achieve? An out-of-town shopping park on the city's most important piece of central flat land, Forster Square, where shoppers could park, fill their car boots and drive home again or get clamped if they stayed long enough to venture to city centre shops.
It was Bradford Council, through the Wardley era, that demolished some of the city's finest buildings, such as the Swan Arcade, and built in their place the hideous Broadway mark one. It created a half-finished city centre ring road which cut off the Alhambra, the Media Museum, the ice rink and many of the city's restaurants from the main shopping centre with a four-lane highway.
Oh, and then there's the small matter of the Stannifer/Westfield shopping centre deal which it negotiated and which, many people seem to forget, happened well before BCR even came on the scene.
BCR, on the other hand, has attracted £3 billion of inward investment, including the Eastbrook Hall redevelopment, the stunning Gatehaus and the impressive start to the Learning Quarter. Many other schemes, such as the Jury's Inn hotel and Provident Financial HQ, are on the way but some, not surprisingly, have been stalled by the worst recession for decades.
There have been disappointments: the fact that the Odeon scheme has still not happened and Park at the Heart narrowly missed out on Lottery funding among them. No-one would claim BCR is perfect but it's tough out there and especially so for a city fighting to overcome more than 50 years of being derided and over-looked by those south of Watford.
Now the politicians think they can do it all themselves again. Is this just cost-cutting? Cynical vote-chasing? Blind arrogance? At a time when places like Sheffield have launched their own city development companies and others are flourishing across the country, Bradford seems to want to turn back the clock.
BCR could have been made more open and accountable, to hold its board meetings in public, to publish its accounts more widely and to recruit more business talent.
Only time will tell whether axing it altogether will be the making or the breaking of Bradford.