A Bradford-based architect has said that Asian businesses in the district are missing opportunities to take their companies mainstream because of the lack of sufficient connectivity to other major Northern cities.
The eastern leg of HS2 between Birmingham and Leeds has been scrapped, and the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) line has been scaled back with the introduction of the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan (IRP).
HS2 and the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) promised a high-speed route from Liverpool to Leeds via Manchester with links to Bradford, Sheffield, York, and Hull. The plans also included a new station at Bradford.
These plans have been largely cancelled, with the new station at Bradford scrapped and the links between Leeds and Manchester will not be high speed as previously promised.
The reason for this is that the government claims there is “no demonstrable business case” for a new station in Bradford despite research showing that the new station could bring £30bn to the city and the proposed lines been deemed “essential” for economic growth for the North.
Bradford is the fifth-largest metropolitan in the area and the youngest city in the UK, with over a quarter of the population under the age of 18. The district’s economy is big, worth around £11.6bn annually making it the tenth-largest city in England, and the third-largest in Yorkshire and Humber following Leeds and Sheffield.
Put simply, Bradford is big business, with a lot of money to be made and spent.
Currently, it takes approximately 20 minutes to travel between Bradford and Leeds. With the NPR line, it was estimated that the journey would take around eight minutes, but this has been bumped up to 12 minutes through the upgrades of existing tracks through the IRP.
Amir Hussain, founder, and CEO of Yeme Architects is heavily invested in the development of Bradford and its people, employing more than 15 people at his company and sitting on many committee boards including his role as the deputy chair for the Housing Regeneration & Place committee for the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA),
Mr Hussain has been vocal about what the proposed plans would have meant for Bradford and Asian businesses in the district. He said: “The Bradford Asian business community is quite insular in that it largely serves its own community, there are not many Asian businesses who have broken through to the mainstream and are supplying and providing services and products into the mainstream system.
“I think the proposed rail system and connectivity would have led to a £30bn investment in the city because around the new station there would be clusters of technology and manufacturing businesses and so on.
“There was a whole master plan for the development of the area around Wakefield Road, which is currently low-value and mostly used for industry. The area would have been transformed into a new urban centre which would have been supported by HS2.”
Had NPR gone ahead, Mr Hussain said, “businesses in Bradford would have had the opportunity to service all the new infrastructure.”
He added: “Essentially, it would have brought big names and big players into the city which would have allowed smaller Asian businesses to tap into their services. Without the station, this plan is harder to implement.”
One big business that is set to open in the city centre next year is Bradford Live, a new leisure and business destination in the old Odeon building.
The development is being managed by the Bradford Live team and the UK’s leading live events business, NEC Group, and when open is expected to attract 300,000 visitors each year.
The venue will host a calendar of 200+ world-class music, comedy and family entertainment events as well as providing the city with conference, meeting, and banqueting spaces. Mr Hussain says that when the ex-cinema building is open alongside its neighbours, The National Science and Media Museum and St. George’s Hall, there could be an extra 7,000 people in the city, providing ample opportunity for business.
Mr Hussain goes on to say that over the last ten years Asian businesses in Bradford have struggled because of the “nature of the sectors they are in”. These sectors which are often food or service related “have been impacted by a shift in trends and an increase in automation”, he said.
“A lot of businesses who have been in operation for a decade or more will tell you they are earning less money now than they did ten years ago.
“Businesses, as they stand now, are going to struggle to adapt to a new environment. If the master plans that are being proposed still go ahead, and I think they will as it makes sense, it is about making sure that Asian businesses understand what is going on, they know about it and how to get into the supply chain.”
The proposed train connectivity in Bradford would make the city “much more attractive for businesses located elsewhere”, Mr Hussain said. “Bradford is disconnected from everything going on around us.
“If you think about it, we have got Leeds and Manchester, two major cities with very large economies and we are not connected to both. The number of trips between Leeds and Bradford is the highest number of commuters in the country and yet there is not a good train service between those two.
“Most of these journeys are done by car which has a major impact on air quality.”
The Council is developing a clean growth strategy which is ambitious for Bradford. “It is about the future, and it is about getting something that makes Bradford a leading place for investment and the Government to see as an exemplar of how you do clean growth, and not to have the new station, undermines that.”
The Government’s backtracking on the NPR doesn’t solely impact businesses but the young people coming up in the district. “I think a lot of young people in Bradford feel neglected, they feel quite cynical about the authorities.
“I think this reinforces that. It gives people the impression that if they want to achieve something then they must leave Bradford to do it. You can do it here, but it feels less likely.”