Sunbridgewells - underground shopping complex set to open in Bradford

Sunbridge Wells, underground retail development in the city centre with bars and shops

Sunbridge Wells, underground retail development in the city centre with bars and shops - Credit: Alamy

Shoppers in Bradford will be going underground when an unusual new mall opens next month

Sunbridge Wells, underground retail development in the city centre with bars and shops,

Sunbridge Wells, underground retail development in the city centre with bars and shops, - Credit: Alamy

An amazing transformation is taking place beneath the streets of Bradford. A dark, damp network of underground tunnels that have previously housed jail cells and a nightclub will next month open its doors as the city’s first subterranean shopping complex.

The new Sunbridgewells development – which, the people behind the scheme say, will be unlike anything in the country – will house contemporary creative and artistic businesses as well as stylish bars and restaurants and an art gallery.

‘The best way to describe it is as a cross between the Corn Exchange in Leeds and the Dark Arches with its craft and arty shops,’ said Frances Day, who is in charge of the marketing for Sunbridgewells. ‘It will be unique and it will retain the authentic Victorian feel and the integrity of the beautiful old building while being filled with 14 modern businesses and four bars.’

Several dates have been mooted for the opening of the underground mall but the big day has been repeatedly pushed back as the scheme has grown and developed but the plan is now for the site to open the end of March – a date which is set in stone, says Frances.

The main entrance will be behind the new City Park development and shoppers will find Victorian style units running the length of the tunnels, an internal street with a large glass area above and rear courtyard with an open plan staircase leading to Upper Miller Gate.

‘With any development there are challenges and problems to overcome but when you’re working in an underground environment such as this the challenges are multiplied several times,’ said Frances. ‘There were myriad challenges that had to be overcome. Each time a project was started it opened another can or worms so it has all been a tough challenge, but a beautiful one.’

Hundreds of tonnes of earth and rubble had to be removed from the tunnels before development work could begin on the £1-plus scheme. Parts of the tunnels have been unused for almost a century while others were used in the 1960s as a nightclub owned by Shirley Crabtree, better known as the wrestle Big Daddy. The Beatles, the Moody Blues, Alan Price and Rod Stewart all performed there before the venue closed.

The new shopping area was the brainchild of developer Graham Hall who is keen to attract young creative businesspeople and entrepreneurs, with low monthly rents and flexible terms. Frances added: ‘Lots of creative and arty businesses have enquired about taking one of the units and although we do still have some space left, I’m sure it will be filled by the time it opens. This is an ideal area for new and existing businesses to trade in the heart of the city centre.

‘Bradford has had a difficult time in the last few years but the city is coming back and this is another example of that. It’s another experience for people coming into the city. We are working with Bradford Council and Bradford College to create a vibrant and exciting trading area, helping Bradford to thrive again. With the new developments in the city centre – Broadway Shopping Centre and the New City Park – this is time to promote and enhance the talent and potential which has always existed in this great city.’

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