Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Aldersgate Estates Ltd (ERF 23)


  Eastbrook Hall lies within the Little Germany Conservation area of Bradford City Centre, a unique collection of 85 buildings constructed between 1855 and 1890, during the peak of Bradford's wool textile industry.

  Of the 55 listed buildings in the area, Eastbrook Hall is the largest and most distinctive. It retains a strong presence in the hearts and minds of the people of Bradford, not only for its imposing appearance and prominent location on the main Leeds road, but for its former use as a meeting place for Bradford citizens, right up to the 1970's. A short architectural description of the building is given in Appendix I.

  With the decline of the city's fortunes in recent times, so Eastbrook Hall has fallen into disuse, and is now derelict and in a severely dilapidated condition.

  In recent years, the conservation area has benefited from the assistance of English Partnerships, who have provided gap funding for the restoration of a selection of the area's key buildings. Refurbishment has been undertaken mostly on a speculative basis by property developers, and this has proved remarkably successful, particularly in attracting commercial tenants. Aldersgate Estates Limited have participated in the redevelopment of two such buildings, and we are currently refurbishing a third comprising some 14,500 square feet of office space.

  It is generally agreed among those involved in Little Germany's future that the successful redevelopment of Eastbrook Hall is crucial to consolidating the already considerable work that has been done in the area, and to providing the confidence for further regeneration.

  Aldersgate Estates Limited have for some years had in place proposals to restore the listed Leeds Road frontage, part-demolish the rear and redevelop the property into a combination of 85,000 square feet of modern-standard office accommodation and flatted dwellings. We entered discussions in 1997 with English Partnerships for the provision of gap funding for the redevelopment.

  Office rents in Bradford sit at around £10 a square foot. This compares with nearby Leeds' £20-£22 a square foot, and explains why property is unable to be developed to a modern standard of finish, energy-efficiency etc. without grant assistance. The explanation for the low levels of rent is beyond the scope of this note, but can perhaps be best explained by the (unjustified) perception of Bradford as a low-amenity or low-grade city, rather as Glasgow was in the 1960's. Recent disturbances have only served to reinforce that view. Glasgow's advancement over the past 30 years, however, provides some hope that Bradford can be similarly rehabilitated, given a sustained and reliable level of central government assistance and the appropriate resources required to lift the city's image.

  Whilst English Partnerships evidently recognise the importance of redeveloping Eastbrook Hall, and remain enthusiastic about providing gap funding to do so, we were unfortunately caught in the EU ruling around 1998, the effect of which I understand was to put a halt to the application of grant funding to areas like Little Germany. I believe that funding remains available at this time at a reduced level to that which was previously possible, but in the case of Bradford even that seems to be difficult to dispense.

  We have discovered in Bradford that it is very difficult to obtain a pre-let for commercial developments, and with the odd exception buildings must be developed speculatively. A recent exception to this was the case of the Inland Revenue, who late last year required 45,000 square feet of call centre space in Bradford. We attempted to attract them to the Eastbrook site, providing an attractive offer of an entirely new building at attractive rents on the rear of the listed part of the site. We failed to do so, and were left in no doubt that the Little Germany area was not of serious interest as a location. This in itself was a blow to both ourselves and to others involved in Little Germany, as it was exactly the kind of assistance that central government could give, not only benefiting the conservation area, but assisting public funds, which, in the absence of such a pre-let, will inevitably need to be dispensed to make this development viable.

  That disappointment apart, it is our experience that buildings completed to a good standard will attract tenants once they can be shown the finished article rather be asked to make the mental leap of visualising a derelict building restored to a new glory. We therefore have the confidence and the will to redevelop the site on a speculative basis, but only if the funding gap can be bridged.

  We are of the opinion that there is now a hiatus in the regeneration of areas such as Little Germany, leaving a half-finished job and a good deal of frustration among the many people and organisations who have put much effort into such projects. We look forward with enthusiasm to this being rectified.

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