I SUSPECT many readers, like me, were a little bemused by the storm in a teacup that erupted last week over the article in The Guardian by Simon Jenkins headlined “Could Bradford be the Shoreditch of Yorkshire – or is it the next Detroit?”

I say “storm in a teacup” because Bradford is well used to being debated in the national press and elsewhere in the sort of patronising terms Sir Simon was bandying around.

Sir Simon’s problem is that, in common with so many who write about Bradford, he is only able to dip in, gather an armful of facts and opinions (either of which may not necessarily be accurate), and then head back to the capital to try to make sense of it all in 1,000 words or so.

To be fair, he clearly has some latent affection for the city which, he recalls, he once worked in briefly in his youth. Sir Simon is 74 which means that, if we count “youth” as, say, 18, he must have been here in the early 1960s, so he has a somewhat romanticised vision of a Bradford where Darley Street was “the Bond Street of the north…jammed with Rolls Royces” and where “tycoon mansions lined Manningham Lane.”

“Today this Bradford is unrecognisable” he writes which, of course, you could say about almost any northern city – even York has changed significantly since I spent some of my own youth there.

But, sadly, Sir Simon makes it sound as if it’s all our fault; that Bradford is the author of its own misfortune by not managing to hang on to its millionaire wool barons, whereas the reality is the city was the victim of industrial change and altered patterns of world trade beyond any community’s control.

“The once noble Darley Street is appalling,” he writes. “The place is dead, its facades boarded up or squatted by charities, and upper floors lie empty….”

That’s not hard for anyone to see but, again, it’s as if Bradford deliberately did that to itself and not that there has been a huge downturn in the retail economy and vast numbers of shops in towns and cities across the country stand empty because of economic recession and a move towards online shopping.

Later in his article, Sir Simon attacks City Park and the Mirror Pool as part of a Will Alsop plan for a “dispersed centre” completely unaware, seemingly, of the way they have acted as a magnet for people who rarely ventured into the city in the past.

He then attacks The Broadway shopping centre: “When it opened a few years ago, it killed all other retail activity in the city centre like a plague. I have never seen such commercial devastation caused by a single planning decision.”

Now I’ve lived in Bradford for nearly 26 years and it’s taken me nearly all that time to get to grips with the place. I’m still learning every day – but one thing I do know categorically is that Bradford’s retail sector was dying for a long time before The Broadway was even conceived and, without it, that decline would already be far worse.

Yes, it has moved the centre of gravity, if only because shoppers prefer to wander around on flat ground than trudge up and down hills. The city centre is shrinking – it has to because of the changes in shopping habits – so it makes complete sense for it to move gradually downhill. And The Broadway has already been a catalyst for bringing in new retailers and leisure and hospitality providers as well as helping to make room for developments such as Sunbridge Wells, which Sir Simon seems to grudgingly admire.

In fact, the underground development gives Sir Simon his link to the ambition to make Bradford “the Shoreditch of Yorkshire,” a comment he attributes to Council chief executive Kirsten England.

For those who don’t know Shoreditch, it’s a trendy part of London that, once working class, has been transformed with art galleries, bars, restaurants, offices, and shiny new buildings – along with soaring property prices. It’s a prime example of what some call “hipsterfication.”

What it really means is that Shoreditch has become gentrified, adopted by the middle classes – which, to some extent, makes the comparison with Bradford a viable one.

Bradford’s problem is that the middle classes have deserted it – for well-documented reasons – and gone off to shop and take their leisure in Leeds.

Put simply, Bradford needs to get them back. It’s a tough ask but it has started: The Broadway is a quality development with the kind of atmosphere in which middle class shoppers will feel safe and comfortable; City Park is a stunning open space where children throng happily in the sunshine; the Alhambra, the Science+Media Museum and Bradford Literature Festival draw arty crowds and attractions such as the NEC Odeon and the upmarket cinema The Light, opening this week, can only add to the appeal.

No-one ever said it would be easy but faint heart never won fair lady. It will take guts, energy, ambition and a good deal of encouragement.

We might be used to it – but sneering from the sidelines is unhelpful and does a huge disservice to those with the passion and pride to want to effect change for the better….