Westfield kind of exemplifies the huge mess successive Bradford councils have made of Bradford city centre. It is the proposed site for a shopping centre that would rejuvenate the city, bringing in retail jobs and much needed investment. To facilitate this they knocked down quite a lot of the existing city, with WH Smith’s, BHS, Pizza Hut, a car customisation company, a large office building and many more making way for the demolition. Which took place quickly and efficiently.
And then nothing happened. Businesses that depended on the people who had their jobs yanked out from under them or the footfall other businesses generated slowly vanished. There is now a huge pit where once the beating heart of the city was, and things get more and more depressed, with shops leaving the city never to return.
Now some protesters have invaded the site, promising not to move on until there are concrete plans in place to actually commence work on it and bring business back to the city. While I share their sentiment I can’t help but think that they’re on a hide into nothing. The company that is responsible for the site seems to be playing a game of brinksmanship where they have the site listed as an asset that they would like someone to meet their vastly inflated appraisal of. If they intended to do anything with it I am sure they would have by now. The length of time it has been left empty means that any attraction it held for business has pretty much dissipated. It wasn’t solely responsible for the decline of Bradford as a shopping centre, but it definitely accelerated it, and the state of Bradford as a centre for shopping and commerce now is such that the companies that are needed to make the shopping centre a viable proposition surely can’t be interested.
How the protesters managed to get onto the site is, once again, typical of Bradford and the Westfield site: rather than scaling the flimsy barricades or cutting the chains they managed to find a key that matched one of the padlocks and simply let themselves in. It’s typical of the level of planning for the site and the care taken that you can bypass the security so easily. It also shows exactly what the true value of the site is: If it were possible to devalue it or there was any desire to actually do anything with it then it would require far more effort to get onto it. Westfield seem to find it mildly embarrassing and worry about their legal liability, but it is obvious it isn’t affecting their plans for the site.