THE boss of The Broadway shopping centre believes “Bradford’s time is coming” – despite the setbacks of the pandemic. 

As the shutters were drawn down in March last year and silence descended over city centres, the already beleaguered high street was to be hit hard.

Recent analysis from the Local Data Company found that up to 70 shopping centres across the UK could be forced to close as the impact of the pandemic continues to impact the retail sector.

The Broadway’s footfall is around 30 per cent down from 2019 and general manager Ian Ward says it is a “challenging market”.

“When you see all the articles in the news about how challenging it is on the high street and around shopping centres, it is true, nobody can hide from that,” he said.

The shopping centre, like many others, has also been impacted by the closure of major retailers like Debenhams, though Mr Ward remains “massively confident” that another retailer can be brought into that space, with “strong discussions” ongoing around other vacant units.

Estabulo, a Brazilian grill restaurant, is due to be fitted out soon, and the Haute Dolci luxury dessert restaurant recently opened. But Mr Ward said it is vital shopping centres diversify their offer and it’s what The Broadway is hoping to kickstart with the addition of Ninja Warrior adventure park, due to open later in the year.

“What we’re significantly buying into here is that we know that from a shopping centre point of view, you’ve only got to read anything on the high street in general, the days have gone where you can just have fashion retailers in a shopping centre, and you expect people to come,” he said.

He added: “We fully realise that leisure is the way forward in the city centre and it has to link into the likes of Bradford Live coming along and generating the night-time economy.

"The BID is looking at working on Purple Flag status with the local authority and police, we’re due to announce we’re taking on a night-time economy adviser.

"We 100 per cent believe that we’ve got to make the most of those assets in the evening, so whether it’s St George’s Hall, The Alhambra, the National Science and Media Museum or ultimately Bradford Live, we have to make sure we’re giving customers another reason to come to the shopping centre.

“It’s not just about coming for fashion. The Broadway is about to re-look at the branding, when we branded it, we branded it to Eat, Shop, Watch. We’re now going to be adding Play to it, because we’ve got to make sure that Ninja Warrior is just the start of what that leisure would be.”

While Covid has undoubtedly had a seismic impact, particularly in Bradford where infection rates have been stubbornly high, Mr Ward, who also heads up the Bradford BID, said the pandemic has fostered a sense of working together.

He said “It is a jigsaw puzzle and we all have a piece of it and we’re all responsible for putting it together, but I think what you can say and what you can start to see in Bradford, it is coming together.

"I think there’s still going to be a period where you’ve got to sit tight, these things are coming. Covid hasn’t helped and it’s put things back a little bit, but I also think we’ve not got to be hard on ourselves because this isn’t a Bradford issue, this is world issue and a UK issue.

"They’ve all got the same problems - we’ve just got to find the right result to get back up speed as quick as we can and then move things on. Getting back to where we were is only the start of the journey, it’s how we actually move it on.”

He added: “I think there’s a lot of work we can be doing. If you think about all the regeneration plans for the city centre, about pedestrianising certain areas, I think that should go ahead as soon as possible.”

He added that the city needs to be doing anything it can to aid business in the city centre and create vibrancy.

And what about the future? Bradford clinching the City of Culture bid and a Northern Powerhouse Rail city centre station are key, said Mr Ward.

“Everybody tells me that Bradford in the sixties and seventies was the place to be,” he said. 

“Where, obviously the likes of your Leeds have gone off into the merry distance and Bradford kind of sat in this flux of not really going anywhere.

"Then it had the hole in the ground for a number of years, then it struggled with that, and it’s significantly now trying to play catch up, but I still remain 100 per cent committed, after working in Liverpool, Manchester and London, I think Bradford’s time is coming and I think it’s coming a bit quicker than people might think.

"I think it’s massively important we secure City of Culture 2025, and I think 2025 might be a milestone year for Bradford, if we can win the accolade. I think there’ll be a lot of projects in play by then, as in Bradford Live, Darley Street Market, City Park, leisure in The Broadway, restaurants, more city centre living open, there’s going to be a really, really strong vibe.”