The Rebirth of Bradford

the rebirth of bradford

By Keith Spence

Great Victorian industrialists turned Bradford in to one of the richest cities in the world. Can today’s planners, businessmen and entrepreneurs match such giants as Sir Titus Salt and transform the city?

Must Bradford always live in the shadow of Leeds? Or is it at last turning the corner to join its neighbour in the super-league?

For those of us who’ve known and worked in Bradford, we’ve seen a city in decline over the years. Its wonderful city centre, once the pride of Yorkshire shoppers, decimated. Its mills derelict and the morale of its people crushed. Meanwhile, its neighbour has seen a transformation unrivalled anywhere in England. Leeds is now one of the great shopping and financial centres in Europe.

But at last there are encouraging signs. Just as Yorkshire industrialists turned Bradford 100 years ago in to a great city, from a filthy, stagnant disease-ridden wasteland, today’s planners and entrepreneurs are winning the battle to emulate those great philanthropists. Councillor Adrian Naylor, Bradford Council’s Executive member for Regeneration and the Economy, is the planning supremo in charge of a £2bn renaissance of the city. Bradford has a chance to awake to its true potential as a leading English city.

“This will transform the city”

rebirth of bradford

Artist’s impression of a regenerated Bradford

Any time now a bunch of Australians will have a meeting. It will be crucial to the future of Bradford. The Australian board of Westfield are poised to give the go-ahead for the next phase of the city centre shopping site. It depends on a certain percentage of the property being let. Already big names have signed up for the £350m development: Next, M&S, Debenhams and the Arcadia Group, which includes Top Shop, Dorothy Perkins, Burtons, Wallis, Miss Selfridge and Evans – and there’s more to come soon. There’ll be over 100 retail shops with a catchment population of 700,000.

At the moment Bradford doesn’t have a departmental store. But, with an estimated £1bn retail spend a year, the centre expects to attract more big players.

Cllr. Naylor dispels any fears that the credit crunch may hamper the shopping scheme. “Westfield have finance already in place. Arrangements were made last year before the credit crunch kicked in and once the board gives the go-ahead it will be all systems go,” he says.

Fifty percent of the property is already let. “This will transform Bradford, making it a world-class shopping centre with the spin-off being that other businesses will be attracted to trade near the centre, hoping to get a piece of the action,” he tells me.

“A world-class shopping destination”

But the city centre redevelopment doesn’t end there. ‘Park in the Heart’ is a massive development for the city centre, surrounding City Hall. It stretches from Jacob’s Well and incorporates Centenary Square. It’s a stunning centre piece in the civic heart of Bradford. It includes a unique mirror pool water feature which will provide locals with a place to relax. Simultaneously it will revamp the office quarter of the city. Additionally, a masterplan for the Canal Road corridor has been adopted. This could see £1.2bn of investment in the area. As part of the area’s regeneration there’s also a wide ranging plan for the development of the three inter-connected town centres of Keighley, Bingley and Shipley.

Concrete evidence of Bradford’s revival is Lister’s Mills in Manningham. It was bought by award-winning property developers Urban Splash in 2000 in a £100m project. Now the first residents have just moved into Velvet Mill, which is a third of the way through its second phase. It includes 190 one and two-bed apartments, with swish penthouses in the main block which haven’t yet been released. This stage-two development will be complete in the spring.

rebirth of bradford

The regenerated Lister Mills, Bradford

Urban Splash teamed up with David Morley Architects for the Lister Mills restoration. They are following in the footsteps of the mill’s founder, Samuel Lister, by challenging traditional design and using new and innovative building methods. The eye-catching design is inspired by plaited yarns of silk, which were produced by the mill in the 1800s, when it was the largest powerhouse in England. In September, 2004, Freda Watts, a former silk weaver at Lister’s, cut a ribbon across the entrance to the mill, and construction work started.

“Foreign competition and man-made fibres led to its decline”

The launch of the first phase, ‘Silk Warehouse’, saw hundreds of buyers queuing overnight to snap up one of the 130 luxury apartments in the south mill. Over the coming years further development of the remainder of the site will create a piazza with the new chimney at its centre.

Formerly the largest silk factory in the world, it was originally built by Samuel Cunliffe Lister to replace the original Manningham Mills after a fire destroyed it in 1871. The Times described it as “breathtaking as Versailles”, the royal palace in France. You can see the chimney from just about anywhere in Bradford.

At its height Lister’s employed 11,000 men women and children, manufacturing high-quality textiles such as velvet and silk. It supplied 1,000 yards of velvet for King George V’s Coronation and in 1976 new velvet curtains for the White House. The 1890-91 strike at the mill was important in the establishment of the Independent Labour Party, who then became the modern-day Labour Party. Foreign competition and man-made fibres led to its decline and in 1992 the mills were abandoned.

The site is enormous – nearly as big as eight football pitches. A masterplan for the rest includes planning permission for office, retail and leisure use. But can today’s corporate social responsibility and public money do for Bradford what great Yorkshire 19th century industrialists did for the city in the past? Can any present-day business man compare with giants such as Sir Titus Salt, who founded Saltaire, and the York Quaker, Joseph Rowntree, whose foundation is still pumping thousands in to Bradford?

 “Sir Titus Salt was a giant of his time”

When Titus Salt was born in 1803, the population of Bradford was 13,000. Many of the workers were children. Bradford is in a valley and the canal water was filthy and stagnant, reeking of industrial effluent and waste. The population was exploding, rising to 43,000 with many migrants settling in the town to find work. There was overcrowding, disease was rampant and life expectancy for the poor was just 20 years.

Sir Titus Salt started to build his father’s textile business, Daniel Salt and Son, in to Bradford’s largest employer. In 1850 he decides to move the five mills out of the city to purpose-built Saltaire because he is appalled by the conditions his workers have to endure. He wants to move them away from the industrial boom-time city in to fresh air and more space.

rebirth of bradford

Salts Mill, Saltaire, Bradford

The mill, built in warm yellow sandstone in the Italianate style, was opened in 1853 on Titus Salt’s 50th birthday. He goes on to create a whole village for his workers with houses, a church, a school, a place for adult learning and a park. He names the village Saltaire. Sir Titus Salt is a giant of his time whose ethic of responsibility and social improvement drives him to transform the lives of Bradford people.

Now can a combination of council and corporate vision and billions of pounds pull off a new renaissance for Bradford? Cllr. Naylor thinks it can.

“When Titus Salt was going strong Bradford was the richest city in the world. The world is different now. But Bradford still has its fair share of entrepreneurs. You will see, over the summer, significant progress. We haven’t stopped building, we are continually moving forward. Many firms in the Bradford area are at the cutting edge of high tech.

“There are all sorts of opportunities ahead. We are not putting up the shutters to weather the storm, but looking forward. Now is the time to invest in Bradford if you are a businessman. When the market comes back you will reap the benefits. Bradford is the only place outside London with a growing population of young people. Our challenge is to make sure our youngsters have the skills to take advantage of what Bradford will have to offer.

“We will learn from the mistakes of others”

“When we get the go-ahead from the Australian board in the next month or two you will see major structures coming out of the ground. The centre will generate a billion pounds of retail expenditure a year. Firms not presently in Bradford will want to move back in to the area near the new centre.

“Bradford’s development will be different from Leeds which focused on financial services. We will go down a different path. Everybody now sees the potential of Bradford with its already established digital and other ground-breaking technical industries. Leeds now has 4,000 empty apartments in the city centre. That isn’t the route we want to follow. We will learn from the mistakes of others. We will build the right things in the right place.

Editor’s Note: Since this article was written much has changed in Bradford. The ‘Park in the Heart’ development came to fruition, some images of which can be seen here. The development of the shopping complex was more troubled. Westfield began work in 2004 but halted in 2008 because of the global financial crisis. The half-finished site became known as ‘The Bradford Hole’. Work picked up again in 2012 and the completed complex, called The Broadway, finally opened in November 2015. It created 2,500 jobs in the city.


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