Why I’m supporting Ideal Bradford (1) : employment and workspace

For 15 years, Bradford on Avon was blighted by the closure of the Avon works. The six-acre site was argued over for years as the developers and the town fought for different visions of what might be. Other developers used the opportunity to grab workspace and turn it to residential use. Between the mid-1990s and about 2010, we lost most of the workspace in the town.

Between 2006-2026, about 600 new homes are being built in the town – that includes the Kingston Mills and Kingston Farm developments, as well as smaller and infill developments. But look at the population figures for the town over the past 40 years: a decline between 1981 and 1991, a rise of less than 6% between 1991 and 2001 and of less than 1% between 2001 and 2011. Let’s assume an increase of 1,000 people between 2011 and 2021 (given the new housing completions). That will take us to about 10,400 – an average increase over the past 40 years of less than half of one percent a year.

So there has not been a mass influx of people. But the age profile is getting older: Wiltshire’s own estimates for the Bradford on Avon community area show the proportion of working age people declining from 57% in 2001 to 52% in 2021. At the same time, however, in the last seven years or so there has been an increase in the number of young families coming into the town – hence the squeeze on places in our two primary schools.

Many of those young families are working in small teams in the new digital and technology sectors and they would prefer to work in the town, rather than commute. It’s resulted in the BoA Business group having more than 400 businesses on its listing – and only 10-15% of those are involved in retail. The problem is that over the past 20 years, we’ve lost almost all of our workspace – and it’s still going on. Residential developers are currently appealing against a planning refusal – they want to turn the key former Griffin & Fudge site in Whiteheads Lane into nine homes.

The Ideal Bradford manifesto is very specific about acting on the challenge:

“We reject the idea that Bradford on Avon is a ‘dormitory town’ and therefore does not need its own business hub. We believe that accepting this would lead to long-term decline. It is not consistent with the vibrant community we know. Ideal Bradford will promote a sustainable and diverse local economy, supporting commercial development in the town that provides jobs and services for its residents. We will seek ways of encouraging the businesses and employment opportunities we all want to see.”

There’s been plenty of talking and, to be fair, previous Councils have been consistent in trying to oppose the loss of workspace, but with limited success. It hasn’t been enough — we need proactive councillors who come from a strong business and entrepreneurial background who will work with the business community to create a rich and attractive working environment in the town. There are opportunities still to be pursued — and Ideal Bradford has the relevant experience in spades …