Our Chair asks what the future looks like for Bradford’s celebrated independent quarter…
At face value, many people might wonder why the Civic Society has taken a stance to caution against the saturation of bars within the ‘top of town’ area. After all, many of these licensed premises often bring long vacant heritage properties back into use; have done a lot to bring people back into central Bradford; and are generally popular among our membership.
However, as with all city planning matters, we have to take a step back and try to look at the bigger picture.
Firstly, to directly address this particular planning application, there was not nearly enough detail contained within the plans to properly understand what was actually being proposed. There wasn’t a design and heritage statement, which is a very important omission for such a high-profile site within a conservation area. The plans vaguely mentioned being for a restaurant, yet there appeared to be no kitchen, waste management or extraction plan. I’m aware, anecdotally, there has been mention of a ‘food truck’ outside, but there was no hint whatsoever of this in the application and, in any case, such a plan would no doubt fall foul of the council’s robust street-trading rules or would have required a separate licence. These elements alone are grounds enough for challenging the validity of any application, let alone one at an important and highly visible regeneration site, and ultimately these plans go against the council’s own adopted policy for encouraging mixed usage on and around North Parade.
But perhaps more importantly, we need to consider the wider context and try to look to the future a bit. This is where the argument gets difficult and can become potentially very subjective and emotionally charged. I’ll say at this point that neither myself nor Bradford Civic Society are opposed to new bars or pubs opening in the city centre – indeed we are proud to support Bradford’s excellent pub scene, and I’ve even raved about our celebrated boozers in the national press before.
But what we recognise is that North Parade is not just ‘any old street’… it’s at the heart of a community of independent merchants and makers – new and established – who rely on footfall throughout the whole day and want to appeal to a wide variety of customer. When North Parade was a finalist in the 2015 Great British High Street competition, it was because of its mixed offering and characterful streetscape, whereby a small number of licensed premises kept consistent daytime hours that appeal to shoppers, workers and evening drinkers alike.
Since then, the street has welcomed a significant number of additional licensed premises, as its popularity and reputation as an attractive destination have grown. However, this has brought challenges, and seen a subtle, but palpable, shift in the character of the street. As pointed out in the Telegraph and Argus article above, of the 10 bars on North Parade, only 5 were open at 5pm on a Tuesday – meaning that throughout a normal weekday, there are a significant number of premises with no active frontage whatsoever during core trading hours. Just shutters, or empty doorways collecting litter. At best, this situation is off-putting for potential retailers and harmful for existing ones, but at worst can also attract crime and disorder as the daytime usage and natural surveillance disappears.
Looking into the future is admittedly quite hard, but we know that the emerging plan for North Parade and the top of town is for it to become a neighbourhood in its own right – a live/work space in the heart of the city, built around a thriving high street. And on top of that, a lot of Heritage Lottery funding is being sought to enhance some of these heritage buildings and the surrounding public realm, making the whole area attractive for a variety of new and expanding retailers. So to put all our chips on the evening/drinking economy alone seems short sighted, and a strategy we may come to regret in years to come.
Finally, I would urge everyone to think beyond what they would personally like to see or benefit from (and I say this as someone who has enjoyed more than a few pints on North Parade) but instead consider what a city centre neighbourhood that is for everyone looks like. Yes, it might have a few late night bars, hopefully places to eat, maybe craft and artisanal shops, but its richness and character lies in its diversity and variety of experiences on offer. There are streets in Bradford that are undoubtedly night-time only zones (Sackville Street springs to mind), and residential streets that no doubt enjoy being quiet after 5pm, but North Parade is neither of those things. Therefore we must nurture it, strike the right balance, and ensure it’s an attractive and welcoming destination for everyone.
Si Cunningham, Chair