Magazine article The Spectator

The Vision That Failed in the Place That Still Makes Everywhere Else Look Better

Magazine article The Spectator

The Vision That Failed in the Place That Still Makes Everywhere Else Look Better

Article excerpt

My abiding Bradford memory is of the aftermath of the terrible fire at the Valley Parade football ground in May 1985, which claimed 56 lives. As a young reporter on a Yorkshire paper, I had been sent to the scene to write what was then quaintly called a colour piece. There was precious little colour anywhere when I arrived.

The air was thick with the stale stench of smoke and the atmosphere laden with grief.

When a hardened Fleet Street hack tried to light his cigarette outside the charred ground, two residents of Manningham Lane screamed at him. In a nearby pub, seemingly oblivious to the tragedy, an ageing stripper danced to Ruby Turner's 'Move Closer' as sweaty businessmen leered at her and gulped their lunchtime beer.

This was a city fractured and forlorn.

'T was ever thus. In 1840, as the industrial revolution gathered pace in this famous centre of the textile industry, the German poet and occasional revolutionary Georg Weerth wrote: 'Every other factory town in England is a paradise compared to this hole. If anyone wishes to feel how a sinner is tormented in Purgatory, let him travel to Bradford.' A century and a half later, the usually courteous Bill Bryson, in Notes From a Small Island, regretfully concluded that 'Bradford's role in life is to make every place else in the world look better in comparison, and it does this very well'.

This unflattering image explains why ridicule greeted the maverick metropolitan architect Will Alsop's futuristic Bradford masterplan, which envisaged creating a lake, a 'business forest' and an Eden Project-style sensory garden in the centre of the city. Ridicule turned to anger when the city's ill-fated and frankly useless quango, Bradford Centre Regeneration (BCR), appeared to spend more time and money talking about Alsop's dreams in exotic places such as Cannes rather than trying to turn them into reality in Bradford.

It came as no surprise when BCR was axed by the council in May this year. In 2008 its expenditure was nearly £4 million, including £530,000 for 11 employees, while its income was just £1.2 million. One of its favourite buzzwords was 'sustainability' but this clearly didn't apply to its own finances. As one furious local resident commented: 'You really couldn't make this whole debacle up. The level of incompetence displayed on all BCR's schemes is breathtaking.' There's a joke which serves as an indictment of this futile quango. It goes:

'What do Bradford city centre and a Polo mint have in common?' The answer is a hole in the middle - where the developers Westfield were going to build a £320 million shopping centre, once scheduled for completion next year. In recent times it has been boarded up, with sarcastic graffiti that replaces 'masters of construction' with 'masters of destruction';

the claim 'good times are coming' is followed, simply, by 'When?' This scheme was meant to be the jewel in Bradford's tarnished crown. Its failure effectively sealed BCR's fate.

However, it would be misleading to suggest that all regeneration in Bradford is now on hold, either because of the recession or because of BCR's demise. Irish developers McAleer & Rushe have begun work on a mixed-use development in the city centre which will include an office building for Provident Financial and a hotel for Jurys. …

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