BUSINESSMAN SAYS BRADFORD SHOULD FOCUS ON WHAT IT’S GOOD AT & THAT’S FOOD!
By FATIMA PATEL & GRAHAME ANDERSON
Finding The Right Balance in Bradford City Centre
A report by the Northern Powerhouse Partnership suggests Bradford’s empty mills should be utilized to create hubs for start-up businesses. The think-tank chaired by former Chancellor George Osborne cited a real need for new business ‘incubators’ and co-working offices across the North, “with ready access to mentoring, and support and connections to local businesses”. Historically, Bradford was the richest city in Europe in 1910, and a city many believed was destined to take its place alongside such great cities as Chicago, Philadelphia and Hamburg, on the twentieth-century world stage. The early part of the 21st century has seen the need for major long term decisions to be made, in order to secure its long term prosperity.
Finding The Right Answer
While some historic textile mills in the area like Listers Mills have already been converted into flats, gyms, shops or offices, businessman Simmi Serkhon of the Serkhon Group of companies, doesn’t think this is the answer. Mr Serkhon already has three business enterprise hubs in Bradford, but says he is struggling to get rent even at £30 per week. “Why do we need offices in Bradford” Mr Serkhon told Asian Sunday. My family are rich and therefore bought most of our properties in 1972, so we can afford to charge low rents. Additionally, we have a lot of residential stock so we can subsidise our commercial stock. New enterprise hubs are likely to cost more money based on today’s property prices, meaning the running costs would result in high rents.
Focus On Food
Mr Serkhon added: “I firmly believe Bradford should focus on what it’s good at and that is food. We have won curry capital for six years in a row. We are the youngest city in Europe, and have the largest Pakistani population, we should therefore work to our strengths. “We have some of the best farmers in Yorkshire, producing some of the best local produce. We have space for warehousing, manufacturing and can create opportunities for packaging, labelling, marketing and so much around food”
Targetting The Top Of Town
The £260million Broadway project began construction in 2004 but was halted suddenly four years later because of the global financial crisis, resulting in the site being dubbed the ‘Bradford hole’ by locals. This has now been filled with 570,000 square feet of space boasting more than 70 shops, restaurants and cafes. This however, has resulted in a significant drop in trade towards the top end of Bradford City Centre. Darley Street, for decades at the centre of Bradford’s shopping heart, now has several empty units, and only a few open shops. Some big names moved to The Broadway and others left the city centre entirely. Meanwhile, the streets around The Broadway are now thriving, with a redevelopment of The Xchange – formerly Arndale House – well under way. Plans are also in place for a new cinema on Broadway itself.
So, whilst The Broadway seems to be thriving, Darley Street and Bank Street continue to be faced with empty shops and low footfall.
Leeds Road Leading The Way
In contrast, like The Broadway the city’s Leeds Road, just two miles away is heading is also booming, with a sharp increase in new business and footfall. There are a plethora of businesses here, offering a wide range of culinary delights, from pizza places, to steak houses, to dessert parlours, and of course the best in Indian restaurants and Asian fashion.
The brand name restaurants including Akbars, Jinnah, Café Zoya and Zouk, are regularly full and bustling with activity. The questions being asked – how is it Leeds Road is on the up and Darley Street based in Bradford City Centre is on the decline? Could it be Leeds Road has a better food offering, and Simmi Serkhon is right to make the assumption Bradford does best with food? Or
could there be another reason?
Val Summerscales, Secretary of The Chamber of Trade, told Asian Sunday, this perhaps was because, so many businesses left all at one time in town centre, when The Broadway opened.
She said: “A lot of shop leases finished from Darley Street as Broadway opened, so that exasperated the situation on Darley Street.
“Hopefully the work Bradford Council are doing with the grant schemes etc will have the desired effect.
“It’s good to see places like Leeds Road do well and with regards to the success compared to Darley Street, well the units there weren’t all empty at one time. On Darley Street, so many went all at one time”
Cllr Alex Ross Shaw, who is the portfolio holder for regeneration, housing, planning and transport said: “Bradford’s undergoing a lot of change at the moment and the city centre is still developing after the success of The Broadway. In the short-term that’s clearly seen a shift of some retail from Darley Street into The Broadway, and that’s why we’re looking at opening a new food market on Darley St to ensure our markets are closer to the new retail core and help stimulate regeneration in the city centre.
“It’s not all about the city centre though and new developments are opening up along Leeds Road, which is great to see, Bradford has a unique offer and businesses often tell me that in the curry trade you’re not seen to have ‘made it’ until you have a successful restaurant in Bradford.
“That’s partly why we’ve won Curry Capital so many times. It’s not about trying to have the same offer as Leeds but to develop our own distinctive offer, with all the benefits of a successful city centre and district with the unique offer only Bradford has”
A Conclusion For Bradford Business
Simmi Serkhon concludes: “By creating the concept of a culinary capital we can encourage business in packaging, marketing, food production, our farming and so much more. It would be a massive boost to economy. This is what needs to happen. This is the advice I gave them (Bradford Council) and what they need to do. Local businesses say we need to stop competing with the likes of Leeds, and have our own individual identity.”