City is looking up but available land proving an issue
Bradford is making good and solid progress in many areas – both within business and outside it. A successful visit to the international property conference, MIPIM, as part of the Leeds City Region delegation, took place last month. City regeneration is continuing and other good things are happening, such as improving education attainment levels.
Phase Two of the Broadway retail and leisure development is well underway, and the Odeon redevelopment scheme has the support of the company behind Birmingham’s NEC – surely a vote of confidence. Elsewhere, Barclays published survey findings in late 2017 stating that the city is the best place in the country in which to start a business.
There is also increasing pressure to bring the proposed Northern Powerhouse Rail line through the city, with a city centre station, which will make a transformational difference to local fortunes.
So, good things are happening, confidence is growing and many businesses are looking to expand – and there’s the rub. In order to accommodate this growth, expansion and success, there needs to be sufficient land available for businesses, developers and other investors to plan, build or grow.
Bradford’s economic growth strategy (published in March) highlights the need to bring forward more land for development for commercial and industrial use, as well as housing, to meet growing demand. The strategy has been produced in partnership by the council, business and community groups; it is ambitious and is supported by the Chamber. The strategy sets out to increase the district’s economy by £4bn, getting 20,000 more people into work and raising the skill levels of 48,000 to NVQ3 – all by 2030.
In supporting the ambitions within the growth strategy, Bradford Chamber of Commerce is about to publish a report examining the need to identify suitable sites for employment land. The purpose of this report is to help the necessary discussions between planners, agents, developers and the council to facilitate economic growth and appropriate development in the right places.
Companies look at several factors when deciding where to locate/re-locate, including: availability of appropriately skilled staff; commuting convenience and
access to road and rail networks; proximity to supply chains and customers along with supporting business services, capacity to grow and overall costs. So, having a range of sites, across the district, of different sizes, to suit different sectors, is crucial at both a microand macro-level.
Bradford’s Core Strategy – the District’s Local Plan – has identified the need for an additional 135 hectares of employment land in years to come. Despite an expanding economy and fast-growing population, there is currently less land available for development overall than there was five years ago.
The Chamber of Commerce report, put together by members of Bradford’s Property Forum, includes examples of companies facing challenges as they seek to expand.
The Chamber is working closely with other stakeholders, including the local authority, to address the issue, but there will, no doubt, be some tough decisions to take. Approval was given recently to a planning application for commercial development in Keighley, in which more than half of the 26-acre site is located in the green belt – it seems likely that other sensitive issues similar to this may crop up again in the future.
In relation to land for housing, while it generally commands higher values, we believe it should not be prioritised to the detriment of employment land identification. Other potential solutions include land swaps, whereby publicly-owned sites are ‘traded’ with privately-owned ones to help facilitate, for example, regeneration, or reduce market blockages. This could be an appropriate solution when assessing existing employment land allocations that are considered unsuitable due to topographic or infrastructure related issues.
These sites may be more appropriate for housing and might be ‘swapped’ with sites that are more appropriate for industry; for example, sites currently on flood plains or close to major transport corridors. Access to publicly under-written bridging finance might be helpful and allow companies to move and expand without too much short-term cash flow implications.
The Chamber, via its work undertaken in the Property Forum, believes that there is an urgent need to update Bradford’s Employment Land Review, last updated in 2011. Bradford Property Forum and the Chamber generally stands ready to support the council in developing an employment land policy that will facilitate economic growth and, in turn, deliver greater prosperity and job opportunities for the citizens of the Bradford District.
PICTURE THIS: The Odeon redevelopment scheme in Bradford has the support of the company behind Birmingham’s NEC.
Allan is a director with Rance Booth Smith Architects in Saltaire