Leeds & West Yorkshire

Bradford election focus on Odeon and Westfield

The Odeon, left, and the Westfield site
Image caption Bradford's landmark Odeon cinema closed its doors in 2000, while work stopped on the Westfield site in 2008

Bradford's recession-delayed Westfield shopping centre and the derelict Odeon cinema have been at the forefront of election campaigns in the city in recent years.

Work on the Westfield development started in 2004 but was halted in 2008 when the economy stalled, leaving a large building site in the city centre.

There are now plans for a scaled-down version of the scheme, although a date for when work will restart on the site has not been set.

The Odeon closed in 2000 and its landmark facade has been left virtually untouched.

The Homes and Communities Agency inherited the cinema from Yorkshire Forward when it was abolished last year and says it is bound by a legal agreement made between Yorkshire Forward and a developer who wants to build a hotel, shops, restaurants and offices on the site. Those proposals include demolition of the building.

As people in the city prepare to elect councillors for a third of Bradford's seats on 3 May, political parties have told the BBC their views on the issues.

'Gigantic hole'

The future of the Odeon was high on George Galloway's list of priorities during the campaign which led to him being elected as Bradford West's MP last month.

A spokesman for his Respect Party - which is fielding candidates in 12 of the city's 30 wards - said it was "in contact with the developers, owners and others with the aim of halting the proposal".

He added: "If this is achieved, there should be wide consultation and analysis to find ways to explore alternative proposals and funding mechanisms."

The party criticised the delays which had led to a "gigantic hole" being left at the Westfield site and said it was concerned the impact of opening a new shopping centre had not been adequately examined.

The Conservatives said they wanted to see the shopping centre completed as soon as possible but Westfield could not be forced to start work before it was ready.

Councillor Simon Cooke, the Bradford group's deputy leader, said: "If the demand was there at present I do not doubt that the developer would have the building up and open in double quick time to maximise their profits.

"There is much talk at the moment of a new impetus generated by the recent by-election result, but talk is cheap and it is hard to see how an MP will speed up the scheme, though I would be delighted if this happened."

Image caption The future of the Odeon formed part of Galloway's by-election campaign

The Conservatives said they also believed the Odeon building - or at least its twin towers - should be saved and could be used for a new central library.

Labour, which controls the city council, said the Westfield development was a top priority and planning permission for the scaled-down version of the scheme was approved in October.

A spokesman said: "As a result, Debenhams have announced that they will take one of the major stores.

"Since that time we have been in constant contact with Westfield who have based a full technical team in Bradford, have a full leasing team working with retailers and have committed additional funds to the project."

He said Labour wanted to see a solution that retained as much as possible of the Odeon building.

"We will look at any future plans, public or private, to develop a sustainable and viable plan to save all, or as much of the building as possible and that supports the regeneration of the city centre," he said.

'Identikit centre'

Bradford's Green Party said it also wanted to see as much as possible of the Odeon saved for public use.

Shipley Councillor Martin Love said: "With the opening of the new City Park the currently forlorn state of the building is there for all to see and what should be a building which compliments the park is instead a detractor."

On Westfield, he said: "We are disappointed that the new designs for the reduced-scale development do not uphold the ambition of truly connecting Bradford to the outside world by having a through rail link and fear that the eventual product will, whilst preferable to the existing hole in the ground, be an identikit shopping centre, the same as every other one, rather than something unique to Bradford."

UKIP Bradford chairman Jason Smith said he had called for a referendum on the future of the Odeon in 2007 and the party had been campaigning for its retention as a concert hall or conference venue.

Mr Smith said UKIP has also been the most outspoken party on the Westfield scheme, urging Bradford City Council and Westfield to complete the development and kickstart regeneration of the city centre.

Liberal Democrat councillor Jeanette Sunderland said: "The Lib Dems have consistently campaigned for the Odeon to be saved and we will support any viable plan that keeps its iconic facade."

She said further delays on Westfield would be "simply unacceptable".

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