Markets and supermarkets dominate the prospects for Bingley


Markets and supermarkets dominate the prospects for one West Yorkshire town this new year. Chris Titley reports. Photographs by Joan Russell

Bingley was hit twice over by the economic downturn. As well as suffering from the general austerity which has blighted Britain, the collapse of the Bradford & Bingley bank dealt a major extra blow to the town.

The bank HQ on Main Street is now empty and boarded up. Talking to town leaders, it is clear that resolving the future of this building is the most important issue facing Bingley as it enters 2013.

‘Bingley won’t recover – or it hasn’t recovered – because the building still lies empty. It’s the prime piece of business real estate within the town,’ says Howard Martin, president of Bingley Chamber of Trade.

‘When it was announced that Sainsbury’s were buying it, 99 percent of people thought that’s a really great thing for Bingley. It will compensate for the loss of Bradford & Bingley. It will provide hundreds of additional jobs within the town.

‘But also, and more importantly, give people a reason to come to Bingley.’Sainsbury’s has said it will announce in January whether developing the Bingley store will be included in their plans for the next financial year. Even if this was the case, the supermarket probably wouldn’t open before 2014.

Dr John Findlay, chairman of Bingley Civic Trust, agreed that a new building on the site cannot come soon enough. ‘The famous Bradford & Bingley building is an eyesore – it was supposed to have the Hanging Gardens Of Babylon but they never took. It got known locally as Das Bunker in the town,’ he said.

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‘I’ve been in touch with the Sainsbury’s chief exec and said when are you going to build this place, because it’s central to keeping the town looking fairly vigorous? And the answer is it’s unlikely to be constructed before 2015.’

Bingley’s market is another contentious issue, says Howard Martin. In her report to the government last year, TV’s queen of shops Mary Portas said markets and events were a way to rejuvenate the high street.

‘And 2012 was the 800th anniversary of Bingley being granted a charter by King John to be a market town,’ Howard said. ‘Just recently it’s been announced that Bradford Council will be withdrawing some of the services that they provide to Bingley market, in the way of the council’s contractors putting up and dismantling the stalls for the market traders. That has caused quite a furore in the town.’

A consortium of local businessmen have offered to take over the running of the market. That is a typical response, Howard said.‘If somebody starts the ball rolling, then Bingley businesses do get behind it. Whether it’s petitions about car parking, or the markets, they will get behind it.’

His own business, Respond Marketing, is doing well. So too are a variety of small businesses in the town. But the empty premises, which also include the recently-closed Royal Mail sorting offices and the old Co-op building, suggest a full recovery is some way off.

‘Hand on heart, while I would love to say I would hope Bingley would grow in 2013, being realistic I think it’s probably going to stay at the same level. I think it does need a kick start and that is what everybody was looking to the Sainsbury’s building to provide.’

For Dr Findlay of the civic trust, Bingley has a lot to take pride in. Features like the ancient Market Cross, and the famous five-rise lock staircase on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, are reminders of the town’s proud history.The one-day Bingley Show, which historian Allan Mirfield explained, began as Airedale Agricultural Show in 1867, is one of the best in the country.

The year just gone has ‘been fairly positive,’ says Dr Findlay. ‘We’ve had pubs shut but they’ve also reopened. The general area, the ruralness of it, has been maintained.’

A continuing concern is a plan to build more than 400 homes in the Micklethwaite area. The Greenhill Action Group, with the support of the civic trust, has been fighting the proposal for years and last summer celebrated victory when the Secretary of State rejected the development.

But the builders are appealing in the High Court against the ruling.It is important to preserve the special quality of Bingley, said Dr Findlay. ‘The area as a whole has the great advantage of being fairly rural. It still has a small town feel. There’s a lot of excellent walking on the hillsides, and by the river, which makes it an attractive place to live.’

The close-knit community often pulls together for a good cause. An excellent example is the Bingley Arts Centre. Previously run by the council, it was taken over by the locals who run Bingley Little Theatre. Chairman Jeff Peacock said: ‘We are putting a lot of investment into it, the whole building will be modernised over the next few years. We want to build on it to create a vibrant centre for the arts.’

So Bingley enters 2013 with mixed feelings. What would the chamber’s president, Howard Martin, like to see happen? ‘The main one is obviously that Sainsbury’s make a positive statement that the Bingley store is to be included in their plans for the next financial year.

‘Secondly we would look towards resolving the issue of Bingley markets with the council, one way or another.’

And by the time this article is published, the long-vacant post of town centre manager should have been filled. ‘The chamber has made it very clear that we would love to have someone dynamic in place who we could work alongside. We’re all working for the good of Bingley.’

Getting thereBingley is well served by rail, with regular 20-minute services connecting it to Leeds. It is found on the A650 between Bradford and Keighley.

Where to parkThere are several council-run car parks. Try Ferncliffe Road or Wellington Street

What to doWalk along the canal and see the famous Five Rise Locks. Shop at Bingley Market in the Town Square, open on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Visit the ancient All Saints Church, parts of which date back to the 16th century