The recent announcement by Australian retail giant Westfield of their intent to build a £1billion ‘super-mall’ in Croydon has been met with mixed reaction. None more so than in the city of Bradford, West Yorkshire, who’s own experiences of this company were not quite what they expected.

The idea of an indoor shopping street, immune to the unpredictability of the English climate and able to draw in curious shoppers all year round is not a new concept. In Victorian times the ‘Arcade’ style shopping centre grew in popularity and such covered commercial hubs sprung up across the country. Many of these have survived to this day such as the Burlington Arcade in central London dating to 1819, still offering high end consumer goods to those who can afford them whilst attracting legions of curious window shoppers to their opulent passageways.

In the early days such places complemented the high street around them and even sparked a regeneration renaissance in their adjoining streets as retailers scrabbled to cash in on the consumers they would draw in.

Piccadilly itself draws it’s name from a type of shirt collar, Piccadill, that was sold in this area. This was before the days of globalisation as we see today and homogenised chain stores were a long way off. The units in these arcades were typically high end tailors, experts at their craft, offering highly individual and unique services.

Fast forward to the modern era and newly burgeoning pockets, increasingly outlandish tastes and an ‘out with the old, in with the new’ attitude ushered in a new retail experience during the 60’s. Many of the Victorian arcades were torn down to make way for modernist structures that the architects were convinced would soon become classics and stand the test of time. Birmingham’s Bull Ring was erected to fulfil the same function as the ageing arcades on a grander scale, and on Broadway in Bradford the Swan Arcade was torn down to be replaced with a glass and concrete tower block with retail units below.

Following the economic booms and collapses of the 80’s, the 90’s saw the return to consumerism in unprecedented levels and as retailers consolidated into ever larger groupings, their need for floor space grew exponentially.
The outcry over the brutalist approach to city centre regeneration of the 60’s and our new found love for 19th Century architecture meant that it was no longer viable to construct within cities at the pace the market demanded, and so the out-of-town shopping centre was born. Such places received (and continue to receive) massive support from councils in areas where they are proposed due to the potential for employment (albeit generally low-paid) and income from business rates they promise.

Whilst the benefits that can be derived from these centres have the allure of sustainability for a city, the downside, as we have discovered, is the death of the traditional high street and the loss of many small independent retailers who can no longer afford to keep their doors open through a combination of decreasing footfall, increasing business rates and an inability to offer loss-leading products or purchase at competitve prices comparable to the bulk buying power of the multinationals.

The proclamation by a company called Stannifer in 2003 that it was to build a £350million mixed use retail and leisure super-mall in the heart of the city of Bradford was met with excitement in some quarters of a city that was already showing the first shoots of high street decay and stagnation, most notably in City Hall. Retailers in the existing shopping precincts of the centre were understandably nervous. Plans to redevelop this area of town were first mooted in 1998 with a partnership between Bradford Council and a speculative investor called Magellan Properties, though realising that their ambition potentially outweighed their ability to deliver they sold the land to Stannifer to progress the scheme.

Planning permission for the project was granted on 10th September 2003 with the promise that 3000 new jobs would be created. Excitement and hope for the future rang high around the the council chamber and was met with a crescendo of optimism in the local paper, the Telegraph and Argus.
Demolition of the concrete buildings that had sprung up on the land in the 60’s, ironically neighbouring the building that replaced the magnificent Swan Arcade, began in March 2004. A flurry of activity was seen amongst Bradford shopkeepers nearby as everyone vied to be in the best position to exploit the new shoppers that would soon be flocking their way en route to the new mall. Accordingly, landowners in the surrounding areas increased their rents and forced out some independent retailers in order to cash in on higher rates they could expect from chain stores who had missed out on a seat in the main arena but could still make a profit from being located nearby.

Then, in December 2004, Westfield bought Stannifer and took over the project.

At first there were no outward signs of problems. Demolition continued and by the summer of 2006 the site had been largely cleared with an expected completion set to occur in late 2007. At this time however, Westfield were building their huge centre in Derby and so many of their workmen were unavailable meaning that this date was pushed back. Despite this, a huge foundation was dug into the ground in the place that would house the car park for the centre. At this point construction stopped, and was left in the same state in which it can be found to this day.

The official line from Westfield is that they are having diffculty in convincing enough tenants to offer assurances that they will take up space in the centre once it is built. BHS, whose existing store on the site was demolished in 2004, announced that they would not be seeking to return. Of the other secured tenants announced such as the Arcadia group chains (Top Shop, Miss Selfridge, Burton etc), most already have stores elsewhere in the city centre which are expected to close if the mall is ever built leaving the city’s retail offer unchanged save for more empty units in an increasingly deserted high street.

Since 2006 ‘The Hole,’ as it is known locally, has stood empty, a monument to the power of speculative excitement over rational attitudes to regeneration. At 20 feet deep and 12 acres in size, with it’s rusting girders protruding from the muddy, water filled basin, The Hole has become something of a tourist attraction in the city. Many visitors go to see the spectacle and talk to locals of their feelings towards it. It seems strange that such a thing should generate so much interest, but the scale of the site is such that it is simply unbelievable to some that the situation has been allowed to continue as it has. Frustration reached such a peak that at one point the council attempted to buy the land back from Westfield so that it could be put to some form of use, but the company attached a price tag so
high that this became an impossibility.

The site has also been a rallying point for resistance to what many see as the wanton destruction of the city by their elected council. Seemingly unable to learn from their mistakes, Bradford Council have also approved the demolition of a 1930’s art-deco supercinema, the former Odeon, to make way for another nondescript glass and steel ‘mixed-use development’ in a conservation area overlooking the grade 2 listed Alhambra theatre and City Hall. Again, this scheme is dependent on pre-lets which are currently absent and a spirited campaign has been waged for the last 10 years to save
this much-loved building with its collosal copper domes and ornate interior mostly intact. Ironically, if it were not for the Westfield hole laying empty for so long, the demolition would likely have already occurred.

The hole has been enough to demonstrate to the people of Bradford that huge companies such as Westfield, and the politicians who are so easily blinded by the allure of jobs and investment, may not always be working towards a positive conclusion.

Campaigns have been sparked to ‘reclaim the hole’ in recent years. In 2009, a group of local residents decided to replace the hoardings surrounding the site which at the time were still shamelessly laden with adverts proclaiming “Your shopping experience coming soon” and “Your Westfield” (something that may soon be very familiar to the people of Croydon) with artwork of their own. The Westfield logo was brilliantly subverted to the word “Wastefield” and huge signs asked passers-by “What the hole’s going on?”.

Such was Westfield’s complete lack of interest in the site, these subversions went unnoticed by the company for a considerable period of time. Council workers sent to remove the new additions made the most half-hearted of attempts before leaving it all in place.

Finally in 2010, Westfield agreed to transfer a small strip of land on the boundary of the site to the council as a temporary arrangement in order to show some measure of goodwill to an increasingly hostile Bradford Public.
This was to become the Bradford Urban Garden and they gave a small amount of cash to a local arts organisation and the council in order to build and maintain it. In an incredible display of the unconnectedness of the company with the residents of the city, the first large scale use of this space was as a holding pen for the EDL when they made an ill-fated trip to the city hoping to capitalise on the widespread misconception of the city as a hotbed of Islamic extremism. As a large crowd threw missiles and smoke bombs at the police lines keeping them within the boundary of the garden, a
group scaled the hoardings and attempted to break out into the city via the hole, only to be pushed back into it by waves of local residents who were not willing to allow this group to spark a riot in the city.

Since this ‘opening event’, the Urban Garden has been reclaimed by the people of Bradford and it attracts many on sunny days. Ironically, should the shopping centre ever finally be built, it will be met with some hostility and lamentation at the loss of this space which has also come into use for small community festivals such as the annual Bradford Mayday celebrations and the Reggae Sunsplash.

With all being mostly quiet on the Westfield front since 2010, most residents have come to simply ignore the hole. The Telegraph and Argus, still fiercely loyal to the developers and the advertising revenue they no doubt expect them to bring, will print the occasional good-news “coming soon, honest” story, and in most cases disallow comments on their web-based versions of the articles since they so rapidly fill with outpourings of indignation from the people of Bradford. The only real news from the company came in 2011 when they announced revised ‘scaled down’ plans for a shopping centre and won significant concessions from the council over business rates in order to try to attract tenants.

The quiet was broken recently by the arrival of ‘Occupy Westfield’ to the site which has bought the spectacle back into the national gaze.

The election of George Galloway as MP for Bradford West in a by-election earlier this year caused an upheaval of political activism in the city. A group consisting largely of Respect Party members and supporters and financed by businesses close to the party made the decision to capitalise on the recent ‘Occupy’ movement and occupy the hole. This caused upset amongst the original Occupy activists (being as it is a fiercely anti-capitalist movement) since it at first appeared that the demands of the group was that the shopping centre should be built immediately. Perhaps sensing that they had misjudged the local sentiment in what many perceived as a propaganda stunt, their demands were changed to “something should happen” and that the recently Labour-led council should take full responsibility for the situation. The original statement made by the group was that they intended to “stay until their demands were met, or for 7 days, whichever comes sooner” although they opted to stay for a longer period of time than this once it became clear that the pace in which Westfield moves on such matters is pedestrian at best.

Correspondence to and from Westfield was relayed to the public via the local newspaper who praised the company whilst often deriding local protestors over health and safety grounds. The situation came to a head this month when Westfield took the protestors to court for an eviction order and won. The bailiffs cleared the hole of tents and people and having toyed with the idea of occupying the Urban Garden instead, the protestors finally left. Whilst the tactics of the group were often questionable, the result of bringing the failure of Westfield Bradford to the national eye is one for which they should be commended.

And so to the recent announcement that Westfield are to plough £1billion into building a new centre in Croydon. This news was understandably met with some disbelief in Bradford, and an empathy with the people who may face a similar fate to theirs. Familiar sloganeering and propaganda has no doubt filled the local press there and it will be the tip of conversation amongst it’s residents. There is no doubt that Westfield are once again speculating that the recession they claim has stalled the Bradford centre will be over by the time they expect the first tills to ring in Croydon.
Should this prove not to be the case however, and the downturn continues, when can the people of Croydon expect to see their shiny new retail cathedral? If all else fails, they will be more than welcome to take a trip to the North and use Britain’s biggest wishing-well in a search for answers.

 

Previous articleDr. Hook I presume? Peter Hook awarded a docterate
Next articleHappy Mondays ‘Double Double Good’ compilation album : review
Writer, Photographer, Event Organiser and Sound Engineer based in the opulent utopia of Bratfud. Have dog will travel.

11 COMMENTS

  1. …and who was busy building the giant shopping mall at Stratford for the Olympics? errrrm….Westfield. So that was where their builders were busy as well.
    they will NEVER build in Bradford. we will be stuck with the Hole for years yet.

  2. I don’t see the point of this article. If Westfield felt they coud make a profit in Bradford then the build would proceed. Croydon is the biggest suburb of London so a major shopping centre will provide a profit,

    Is the writer of this article proposing that they open Bradford and make a loss ?

    • We don’t know or care about Westfields profits but then, what profit can they make from a hole in the ground? Just hand it back (£5 would be extortionate) and we can get back to having a city centre again.

  3. Westfield must have thought they could make a profit in Bradford to start there in the first place, but decided to abandon it. If they’ve done it once they could do it again! Plus it shows how much the company gives a shit about the places they decide to go. Great article, hope Westfield and all shopping centres become a thing of the past, this is a less common example of how they fuck up towns and cities they go to, but they usually do.

  4. So many holes in the article, not the size of Forster Square but holes nevertheless. No mention at all of the guilty people. The politicians who signed Bradford up to this deal.
    EDL Park ” some hostility and lamentation at the loss of this space” – don’t be silly. Its empty most days & there are plenty of other public spaces that can be used. Galloway “caused an upheaval of political activism in the city” Really. Its always been there but perhaps now he drew attention to voices that others in Bradford never listen to?

    Your real problem is that you are opposed to any shopping centre (aka Temple of Capitalism) just admit it. Stick to the Odeon, that’s a campaign that can be won by the twitter chattering classes even though most of them hardly spend any time in the middle of Bradford anyway.

    • Not sure where you are coming from monk but almost everyone I know wants the odeon saveand something doing about the westfield hole. Nothing chattery about it mate just regular bradfordians absolutely sick of the whole thing. Why would people go into the centre…there’s nothing of note there. That makes me sick say it but its true .

  5. Monk you’re funny, this is a COUNTERCULTURE website, of course he doesn’t like shopping centres! Not even any pretence of ambiguity over that so are you gonna criticise the whole site cos it’s not your viewpoint? You’re gonna pop a blood vessel. I don’t mind shopping centres but I can still hate Westfield for what they did to Bradford. Also is it that only people in the city centre care about the Odeon or is it only people who never go to the city centre? Cos I’ve heard both. Go away and formulate a proper argument instead of just ‘you’re anticapitalist so your opinion doesn’t matter’. Don’t have to be anticapitalist to hate the hole.
    One thing you said I do agree with is that there\’s no mention of the politicians but I assume that\’s because this is about shopping centres and Westfield and not the wider regeneration problem in Bradford which has no relevance to Croydon. If you want to read am article with a different angle then look elsewhere.

  6. Jeff, Jeff, Jeff my my you do have a lot to say don’t you? Pity you are so quick to judge. \’you\’re anticapitalist so your opinion doesn\’t matter\’. How do you know I’m not an anti capitalist? How do you know I’m not one of the Bradfordians who supported the people who camped on the Westfield site? Those people were derided by many of the keyboard warriors who RT the shit out of oh so witty Support Bradford Odeon tweets. How many of them have actually got off their arse & taken part in any direct protest?Counter culture? Ha ha yeah, tweeting pictures of pop stars while backstage at a £50 a head stone roses gig – we’re counter culture maaan , pass the M&Ms

    • Hi

      It’s true that I do have anticapitalist views, but I’ve tried not to make a point of this in an article which is solely about the failure to finish something that was begun nearly 10 years ago. My own opinion is that I don’t want the centre to ever be built, I would like a public space to be there instead, but this isn’t the point of the article which is intended to inform people as to the situation, particularly those in Croydon who are unaware as we are as to the details of what has gone on.

      Not sure as to why the criticism of being a keyboard warrior has been levelled. Of course as a feature writer the use of a keyboard is a key tool. Most things about which I write however is from first hand experience – a good example would be the paragraph about the EDL use of the space. If you wish to see more of my writing on this subject it is available in the archives of httpss://northern-indymedia.org

      It is good to see this issue provoking debate, and many thanks to louderthanwar.com for providing a platform for not just music culture, but northern counterculture as a whole

  7. This is clearly turning into a ‘why didn’t everyone come and support Occupy Westfield?’ rant. I’ve had a look at the Occupy Westfield Facebook page and it’s now full of Respect posts and ads. That has been a problem for anyone wanting to protest about it without being aligned to a single party over it. Protesters hell bent on criticising anyone who didn’t get involved on this basis can either remain in denial about it and lash out, or think about whether the protest may have had an image problem that could be countered by listening instead of shouting everyone down who pointed it out. It’s their choice but it’s certainly putting me off supporting Respect. You can’t go around aggressively confronting would-be Respect supporters who disagree or offer another point of view and expect the party to build in popularity because people will just turn off.

    • The fight for something to be done re Forster Square was never a single party issue. However the lack of action is certainly one insult that can be levelled at tory & labour. I’ve never looked at the occupy westfield Facebook page, I did however spend sometime with the people on the site and talk to them. I’m pretty clear they weren’t bothered about the “image problem” their protest had. They are people fed up of empty words and wanted to do something. I’m always amused by the assumption that as many of them were turned onto politics by Respect that this was solely a Respect protest. Why? The first week saw quite a few Bradfordians interviewed by local media & the vast majority weren’t members of Respect. Just Bradfordians who live and work in the city and are fed up with the mess. People who are never listened to, people who feel they had no say in the destruction of their city centre. Isn’t it great that they are shown that there are many other people who care too.
      I never saw anyone at the site trying to recruit people to join Respect. Sure many of the protestors are supporters of Respect but thats no surprise is it? Look at what Tory & Labour have done in the past 12 years in the city centre and tell me you are proud to vote for either. I don’t care if Respect win another vote in the city again, but what they have done is fire people up with enthusiasm, shown them that a DIY attitude can achieve something. The war for hearts & minds will be won by actions on the streets of Bradford not by posts on Facebook.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here