£260m Bradford Broadway launch ends troubled saga

The opening of the biggest retail development of 2015 in the UK will signal the end of a troubled saga which came to symbolise the destructive effect of the global financial crisis on British city centres.

For years, people in Bradford have had to live with a huge empty space in their city centre after the site of The Broadway was cleared, only to see the project mothballed.

But, just as "the hole" became a much-used metaphor for the problems faced by city centres in the teeth of the worldwide economic storm, the developers of the £260 million project say its opening this week will symbolise the regeneration of the area.

The project was first devised in the late 1990s and the demolition of the site in the centre of the West Yorkshire city began in 2004.

Then a range of teething problems culminating in the 2008 financial crisis which led to developers Westfield mothballing the scheme, leaving Bradford with an ugly empty space at its heart.

Work started up again in 2014 and the centre, which features more than 70 shops and will create 2,500 jobs, will be opened with a fanfare on Thursday by pop star and X-Factor winner Alexandra Burke.

Duncan Bower, director of development at Westfield, said one of the attractions of Bradford to the retailers in The Broadway is the youthful profile of the city.

He said firms like H&M and River Island will be a big draws for young people living in the city as well as the flagship M&S and Debenhams - the first department store in Bradford for 20 years.

Mr Bower said: "Bradford's got one of the fastest growing youth populations in the country so it's youth fashion it's been crying out for.

"And that really sealed its place as one of the top ten retail development opportunities in the country."

He said: "We're are privileged to be involved in this development. There's a pride not just in what we've done but also in Bradford. We hope that Bradford will be proud of what they see."

Mr Bower said the centre was now 90% let and he was hopeful most of the stores would be fully open for Christmas.

He said The Broadway was already acting as a catalyst for further developments in the city centre, despite its proximity to Leeds city centre - which is sometimes called the Knightsbridge of the North.

Mr Bower said the developers were looking forward to the competition with the big Leeds shopping centre but said Bradford had a huge catchment area of its own, to the north and west. Westfield believe footfall in Bradford will increase by 40% as a result of The Broadway's opening.

"If you can shop in Bradford, because it's a great offer, why would you go past it to shop in Leeds?" he said.

"In a sense, while Leeds is great retail destination, what The Broadway is trying to do is bring a competitive edge back in to Bradford city centre so it can be up there competing with all these centres."

Mr Bower said: "There are other developments going on immediately around The Broadway which seem to have been kickstarted by the catalytic effect of The Broadway and developments within the city centre.

"People have seen the regeneration boost that our development Is bringing but also other developments are bringing to the city centre as well."

Mr Bower said the long gestation of The Broadway was "frustrating" but said: "It's a great day but it's the start of the story, not the end of it."

He said: "We do understand the frustration but, when you get a global financial crisis of the kind we had in 2008 and the impact that it had in subsequent years, it really could do nothing else but significantly slow down not just The Broadway but just about every other shopping centre development bar London.

"Yes, it's taken a little bit of time; yes, it's had a little bit of a difficult birth, but we do think that beautiful things come out of that kind of adversity and, thankfully, that's where we are today."