Chris Holland meets Ian Ward, general manager of Bradford's Broadway shopping centre, which has celebrated its first anniversary

IAN Ward arrived for our meeting a bit breathless.

It was a couple of days before the Broadway centre's first anniversary celebrations on November 5 and its general manager had been enduring a series of TV, radio and press interviews as well as overseeing last minute arrangements.

Being under intense scrutiny is part of the job of running the Broadway and media interest in the £260 million centre remains high.

After all, much is expected of the development which opened its doors 12 months ago, bringing to an end years of "Will they? Won't they?" waiting while the site stood idle before Australian developer Westfield cut the first sod.

Ian has been in charge since March, coming on board after seven years running retail malls in Liverpool.

The ebullient Lancastrian was attracted to the job partly due to what he sees as many similarities between Bradford's current situation and the challenges faced by Liverpool when he arrived there.

He described the Broadway as "work in progress" which has an important role in helping to regenerate the city centre but he insists it should not be regarded as Bradford's saviour.

Ian said: "The Broadway is not the saviour of Bradford. Bradford as a whole must be that.

We are a key part of the city’s regeneration jigsaw, responsible for attracting retailers here for the first time - 69 per cent are newcomers - and bringing back Debenhams to Bradford. Retailers are interested in coming here.

"Broadway is a good centrepiece of the jigsaw puzzle but there are 20-25 other people and organisations holding key pieces and we must learn how to work together strongly to enable Bradford to move on. Liverpool went though exactly the same journey."

Ian brings more than 30 years’ retailing experience, including with Marks & Spencer and Safeway, which he left following the takeover by Morrisons.

He joined Land Securities in 2008, managing the Stratford Centre in East London where he led efforts to reduce crime levels and improve the shopping environment.

Ian returned North in 2010 to become centre director at Liverpool's St Johns Shopping Centre which he managed through a major period of transition, overseeing a multimillion pound redevelopment, throughout which the centre remained fully operational, following its sale to InfraRed Capital Partners.

He grew footfall against the backdrop of building work and the toughest economic climate seen in a generation.

Whilst in Liverpool Ian took on high profile roles and developed strategic partnerships with local organisations, including as chairman of Liverpool City Central Business Improvement District, representing more than 630 city centre businesses.

One of his hopes is that Bradford business bodies, the council and other organisations can pull together in the same way.

He said: "There's more work to be done on how we sell Bradford to a wider audience. My priority is the shopping centre but it's important to be prepared to take on a wider role to help the broader economy.

"There are enough people and organisations in this city who, if they came together through a Business Improvement District or another structure, can significantly make a difference and help. We need to all get on the bus and go in the same direction.

"I believe Bradford is now well placed to move ahead. The Broadway is a component. I have a vision that when the new cinemas in the latest stage of the scheme are finished and the restaurants are opened we will see more people eating out before walking to City Park or the Alhambra and maybe even see a music festival established here.

"That relates to what happened in Liverpool where the arena is a massive venue now."

Ian believes the Broadway has made a good start but accepts that its long-term success depends on getting people to change their shopping habits.

Leeds has just seen the Victoria Gate shopping centre open with John Lewis at its heart; the Trinity Centre is relatively new and the long-established White Rose centre is investing, including in a cinema.

Ian said the Broadway needs to harness the spending potential of more affluent shoppers from the Aire Valley and surrounding areas, such as Ilkley, most of whom still do not shop in Bradford.

Ian said: "People are creatures of habit. If you have always shopped in Leeds or White Rose it's a routine and we have to to break that routine. When you have had a hole in the ground for as many years as in Bradford, some people changed their routines and started shopping elsewhere. That's a key challenge."

One of the first things Ian did on taking up his job was to cut parking charges at the Broadway to £3 a day on weekdays and £1.50 at weekends, leading to a 60,000 rise in average weekly footfall.

"The Broadway opened with the wrong pricing concept for car parking. That harmed footfall for the first three or four months. It was apparent when I arrived that something needed to be done about that. It is a five-storey car park with 1,300 spaces. On my first day the cars never got higher than the second level

“Today, the car park is full to level four on a daily basis since charges were cut to £3 a day during the week and £1.50 on weekends.

“The footfall over the last seven months has risen by 60,000 a week on average, well ahead of expectations. The new parking charges are excellent value for money and have drawn in footfall through strong marketing and events," he said.

Ian sees his priority as ensuring the Broadway ship maintains a successful course. He believes a good start has been been made with an emphasis on different events and marketing initiatives, such as the celebrity sand sculpture trail featuring images of personalities such as magician Dynamo and singer Zayn Malik.

The children's mall train and a student 'lock in' evening which had 10,000 people queueing outside, are other successes. There will be a Christmas grotto in the centre.

"Events and marketing are only successful if footfall follows, so it needs to be sustained. We have been on a journey in last six or seven months and have seen footfall increasing. We are ticking all the right boxes attracting both shoppers and some exciting retailers who want to come to the Broadway. We are doing the deals.

"Like any centre retailers come and go but our attrition rate has been less than average.

"We have retailers wanting units and are doing significant work on having units that retailers can take up.

"Disney is an exciting new addition and the new Bradford City pop up shop should be a great attraction and hopefully could become a permanent feature

"I'm really excited about the next few weeks over the crucial festive period. One plan is to have a small number of Christmas cabins which could be the test bed for a possible future Bradford Christmas market.

"It's all about making a bold statement and starting to think about putting Bradford on the map as a fantastic place to go for Christmas shopping. We have to start somewhere.

"The success of our first year is measured by the the take up of retailers that have filled the centre up; a rise in footfall footfall and the fact that the landlord is progressing the second phase of significant investment to entice more retailers in," Ian said.

Ian is in his office at 7am and often not back home in Bolton until well into the evening. The the daily 46 mile commute over the M62 can be a chore - but his enthusiasm for the role and about Bradford's opportunities is abundantly clear.

"For me, this is about being here at the start of a journey at a time of challenge in ensuring the Broadway is a success. I'm in this to help see Bradford through the next stage of its regeneration. I hope to sit down in five years time and say we have made real progress," Ian said.