Bradford: A pro-active producer city?

By Barra Mac Ruairí

Bradford is a big ‘small city’ located within a very distinctive Yorkshire district. It is big in terms of its layers of history, and is also expanding further with a fast growing population that makes it the youngest major city in England, with the largest proportion of people of Pakistani origin in England.

The city draws upon this scale, dynamism and diversity. Our people are enterprising, with high levels of self-employment, and the city’s creativity was recognised with the world’s first UNESCO City of Film designation in 2009. As a ‘small city’ Bradford is accessible and personable in scale, but always looking to improve the conditions for successful new investment.

Bradford supports this with an approach to placemaking that builds on its historic strengths as a producer city, earning its living by making, creating and trading. J.B. Priestley once wrote: “Bradford has never dealt with this place and that, but has dealt with the whole wide world, putting a best coat and waistcoat on the planet itself”. Supporting our ongoing growth as an outward-looking producer city is critical to our current and future success.

We all know that effective placemaking is not a quick fix, and the projects that Bradford Council supports are often the more difficult ones, where the market has been unable to provide an appropriate solution. We are also somewhat obsessive about implementation. Our ‘team of teams’ approach, in which we focus on collaborative delivery with different partners bringing complementary resources to the table, was a contributing factor to Westfield announcing they plan to start construction of the Broadway shopping centre in 2013.

That Bradford Council and its partners are committing for the longer-term is already apparent. When the national economy slowed, we invested in our built environment at such a scale that investors are now responding. City Park, for instance, is now an iconic space synonymous with the image of the city, but at its heart remains a social space where people from all the district’s communities come to meet, interact, relax and have fun.

Matching our own resources with government investment through the Regional Growth Fund, we have created a ‘growth zone’ in the city centre. The zone enables a focusing of resources and incentives to encourage business relocation or growth, by offering super-fast broadband and city centre wi-fi, alongside a responsive planning system, access to employment and skills support, and a business growth scheme. The latter provides rate rebates for businesses creating new jobs or bringing disused commercial space back into use.

We’ve also been at the forefront of new interventions in placemaking. The Council stepped in to provide a commercial loan to a developer when the banks could not, allowing Provident Financial to open their new headquarters at the heart of the city. Leading on the Leeds City Region revolving investment fund will create up to £500m for investment in projects that are commercially viable and support economic growth, but are unable to secure sufficient finance due to conditions in the financial markets. Bradford has been adept at making the most of the resources gained, such as levering local jobs out of construction investment in City Park, and creating meanwhile uses like Bradford Urban Garden.

Looking ahead, the development of a new City Plan will help define and position Bradford’s future direction and set out a distinctively local approach to stimulating economic development and regeneration in the city. So far, we have needed insight and leadership, energy and persistence, and robust collaboration.

If you would like to explore the ‘producer city’ idea further, using Bradford as a model, or contribute some creative thinking towards our City Plan themes, then please come along to the Academy’s Congress in May.

You will be made most welcome in this dynamic big
‘small city’.

Barra Mac Ruairí AoU
Strategic Director,
Bradford Metropolitan District Council