By Oliver Gibson –
Last year marked the twenty-year anniversary of Bradford Council’s ‘2020 Vision’ scheme.
Some aspects of Bradford’s city centre have changed, as can be seen in the transformation of Centenary Square and in the completion of the long-awaited Broadway Shopping Centre.
However, Bradford’s potential remains under-utilised, with it being ranked as the 5th most deprived city in England in a report from 2019.
But what exactly was promised in the Bradford Centre Regeneration Masterplan? And how did it fit into the 2020 Vision?
According to Bradford Council’s retrospective review of 2020 Vision, that scheme was the largest consultation exercise in the city’s history, drawing together the opinions of businesses, residents and youth groups in the hopes of making improvements where it was deemed necessary.
2020 Vision outlined a number of issues that Bradford faced in 2000 along with a number of predictions for the future. A number of those predictions turned out to be true, with Bradford’s population climbing to half a million, as was expected.
The Vision also predicted that Bradford’s population would be younger, on average, than the rest of the UK. By 2020, Bradford became the UK’s youngest city, with over a quarter of people living there being under the age of 18.
As part of this scheme, a firm called ‘Alsop Architects’ was appointed by Bradford Centre Regeneration to draw up a ‘masterplan’ to rejuvenate the city centre – an area deemed to be ‘2×2 kilometres’ in that plan.
What could have been
Alsop Architects’ Masterplan was bold and daring for the time, featuring abstract and ambitious proposals for the city as well as zany early 2000s illustrations, for good measure.
One such proposal was the splitting of the city into four neighbourhoods, or ‘fingers of intervention,’ which would be linked by ‘The Bowl,’ the area surrounding Bradford City Hall.
Another proposed move was the creation of a ‘learning bridge’ that would link Bradford College and the University with Goitside, close to the Kirkgate Centre.
Some of the wackiest proposed changes, such as the Trumpet-bell-like glass objects placed like mysterious artefacts around the city, are reminiscent of some of Alsop’s other work.
Will Alsop, the prominent modernist architect, formed Alsop Architects just before the plans were drawn up and later left the company to work on other projects before passing away a few years ago.
A number of Alsop’s other designs, such as the Sharp Centre for Design in Ontario, Canada, paid no respect for the existing architectural landscapes of the cities that surrounded them. This can also be seen in the case of ‘The Tube,’ which was built in Cardiff in 1991 and was later demolished in 2010.
It’s no wonder why these designs were not implemented. However, certain aspects of the plan, such as the presence of green spaces, could well have benefitted the city centre.
What was actually done?
The redevelopment efforts in Bradford to date have been nowhere near as grand in terms of their scope. Efforts have been focused on specific areas and some real progress has been made in this regard.
The City Park area added some much needed open space to Bradford’s city centre, along with the highest water fountain of any city in Britain. This development made the area free of traffic, increasing the levels of pedestrianisation in an otherwise vehicle-laden city. In fact, Alsop’s plan recognised that vehicular traffic posed a problem for Bradford – as people often merely used the city to pass through to another location.
The Broadway Centre, which opened in 2015, added some much needed modern retail locations to the city. The site on which it was built had previously been a wasteland for more than a decade, as shops were cleared to make way for a new shopping centre but key investors could not be swayed.
Progress has slowed since the completion of the Broadway Centre. The demolition of Jacob’s Well, a forgettable concrete office block, took place in 2019. The completion of Bradford New College took place in the same year. The pandemic will undoubtedly have gotten in the way of many building plans and little has been done in the way of rejuvenation since then.
Regrettably, much of Bradford’s most important and unique architecture was destroyed in the 1960s and 70s to make way for concrete temples to Stalinist brutalism. Bradford Council approved the construction of monstrous buildings in the name of progress and the city now boasts only a measly supply of grand, Victorian architecture. One could easily forget the historic nature of the city.
Pictures of Bradford before the demolitions can be found in this album.
While some efforts have been made in the last decade, there is still much to be done. Many shops on the high street lay empty and derelict, and if the ‘broken windows’ theory is correct then this fuels crime and anti-social behaviour.
It is vital that any future redevelopment efforts respect the history of the town while making way for the future in order to prevent further losses of unique historical sites.
So what can this tell us about Kirklees’ ambitious plans for both Huddersfield and Dewsbury?
By now the plans are well known as the Huddersfield and Dewsbury ‘Blueprint’ respectively, and each of the plans offers a 10-year vision that aims to radically redesign the town centres in numerous ways. Sound familiar?
Now, while there’s nothing to say that things will turn out the same as they did for Bradford, Kirklees would do well to be cautious and to set its expectations accordingly. Especially as the ongoing effects of the pandemic have likely already affected many planned budgets.