8 minute read

Beautiful Bradford

Saira Ali’s work over the past seventeen years demonstrates the massive impact that a local authority landscape team can bring to all aspects of a council’s work.

Saira Ali
Bradford Council

Bradford is a city with a grand past and a very culturally diverse present. It was the home to wool mills and industries associated with the production of milling equipment. The wider region is rich in coal, York stone and iron. This, coupled with canals and later rail transport, brought it to prominence during the Industrial Revolution.

The city has a history of welcoming immigrants – a third of the population (540,000) are from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups. As one of Europe’s youngest cities, with around a quarter of the population under 16, we are ideally placed to influence hearts and minds, and harness the growing passion for better resilience and sustainable living across our community. As a city, we experience all the challenges of urban deprivation, but the district is two-thirds rural, and boasts gems such as the Saltaire UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The spirit of innovation that built Bradford into a 19th century industrial powerhouse is again coming to the forefront in addressing climate and ecological challenges, social progress and sustainable growth.

Bradford Council declared a climate emergency in 2019, and set out its Sustainable Development Action Plan in March 2020, which commits the district to a cleaner, greener economy, achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2038. The plan endorses the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and will cut carbon, help to reduce household bills through better energy efficiency, improve health and well-being, and generate new jobs and sustainable economic growth through investment in recovery and a modern economy. Research suggests(1) that clean growth could add £11bn to the Leeds City Region economy and create 100,000 extra skilled jobs for local people.

The work of the landscape team plays a pivotal role in ensuring the successful launch of Bradford’s Clean Air Zone in January 2022, as well as in the delivery of blue and green infrastructure projects over the next few years. This reflects the critical and growing position of the natural environment in quality of life, public health and crucially Bradford District’s future prospects. When I embarked on my career in landscape almost 20 years ago, such a top table role would have been unthinkable. That the work is now at the heart of the decisionmaking process demonstrates the continuing confidence that Bradford Council has in the public realm and its landscape, design and conservation team – one of the biggest local authority teams in the country – and our ability to create a better, more sustainable tomorrow for us all. Our home-grown skills add a different dimension to the way we build a new Bradford District that truly reflects our diversity, our creativity, and our ambition.

Top of Town Public Realm – North Parade, Draft proposal. The Townscape Heritage Scheme and ERDF financed project will retrofit high quality street trees and rain gardens into a traffic dominated urban landscape. The enhanced streetscape will favour pedestrians, promote sustainable transport modes, reduce flood risk and help promote local businesses.
© Landscape, Design and Conservation, CBMDC

The team reflects the cultural diversity of the population, which is also a real aid to understanding problems and finding solutions. We are an integral part of the Department of Place – Planning Transportation and Highways embedding best-practice design principles across placemaking and place management.

Bradford has been among those communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, yet we are determined to build back healthier, safer, fairer, and greener – and, unusually for the public sector, our landscape-led thinking is central to the delivery of the Council Plan 2021-25. These include the Top of Town Public Realm Improvement Scheme, bringing climate change mitigation and biodiversity enhancements into city centre regeneration, and the Green Blue Gateways and Naturalising Bradford Beck projects, which will bring increased sustainability into highways infrastructure projects. The only way to help these projects achieve their full potential has been to seek funding to supplement the resources available to the Council. For these three blue green infrastructures (BGI) projects, this has been secured through bids to the European Structural and Investment Funding programme, administered by the European Regional Development Fund.

Another stand-out project is the £47m Bradford Shipley Route Improvement Scheme, which proposes a raft of measures to cut journey times, improve air quality, reduce road casualties, and make the surrounding environment more ecologically friendly. We are working with ecological campaign group Friends of Bradford’s Becks (FoBB) to restore and rewild the neglected waterway as it flows through Shipley and improve public access. The project will support West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s transport strategy which aims to boost sustainable transport with a 25% projected increase in bus use, 75% rise in train use, and an incredible 300% in cycling. Traffic congestion is currently a major problem on these routes, especially during morning and evening peaks. This reduces air quality and hampers the economic potential of the area and district. Working together, we have ensured that the plans are spearheaded by a shielded section of the highway, connecting green, open space corridors as desirable active travel paths for cycling and walking. The Bradford Beck – once dubbed “Mucky Beck” – will be opened up from its artificial culverted flow and renaturalised, providing better habitats for wildlife, boosting biodiversity and amenity use. As a result, the river’s water quality will be improved and the area’s flooding risks reduced.

A further illustration of our commitment to co-create a more sustainable, climate-change ready district is our work in delivering sustainable drainage. This is built in urban areas to manage rainfall where there is no natural way for flood water to be absorbed or to drain off. Our focus is primarily on nature-based solutions for SuDS, modelling land to divert water flow, creating ponds, wetlands or by using permeable paving, the installation of raingardens, and planting street trees rather than engineered SuDS solutions, such as buried tanks with hydrobrakes.

We are applying SuDS to a number of Council schemes, including an ongoing LIFE CRITICAL project at Horton Park, part of the EU Life Programme supporting environmental, nature conservation and climate action projects with natural landscape design and getting the local community involved in monitoring the changes to temperature, air quality, wildlife and plants; and the North Street Keighley SuDS Scheme, which will aid drainage and encourage biodiversity. Council teams are also delivering natural flood management of moorland sites on Ilkley Moor and Harden Moor, to prevent water flowing to land below. This involves digging out ditches and creating dams, rewetting the land to create peat bogs to store a significant amount of carbon, and planting sphagnum moss. On behalf of team Bradford, I was proud to pick up the Rising Star of the SuDS World award at a virtual ceremony in July run by Susdrain.

Kirkgate Public Realm Improvements. Quality green spaces created to compliment the city’s rich heritage and shopping area while creating attractive and relaxing areas where people can rest and spend time, people friendly street creating better connectivity for pedestrians and cyclists and links to City Park.
© Saira Ali

Research conducted by the Bradford Institute for Health Research in the field of childhood development is inspiring new initiatives. The Council’s landscape architects are helping to deliver Better Place Bradford – identifying and overseeing improvements to local parks and outdoor spaces with the aim of providing a healthier and happier environment for babies, young children and families, and providing opportunities for children to play and enjoy nature, facilitating safe and quality spaces for walking, and improving air quality.

We are working with Active Bradford and JU:MP (Join Us: Move. Play.) to help deliver environmental improvements which will help older children and their families to be active. Landscape design plays a crucial role in active lifestyles, so we are partnering with our active travel team to create low- traffic neighbourhoods and school streets, and our Shipley Streets for People project (based on the healthy streets principles) aims to increase footfall for local shops and the market as well as improving links to the town centre, local amenities and the railway station.

We are planting a tree for every primary school child in the Bradford district as part of our ongoing commitment to take climate action. Working together with Trees for Cities, Forest of Bradford (BEAT), Fruit Works in Bradford, Town Councils and our communities, 55,000 trees will be planted over the next two years. Sustainability is often misinterpreted as a solely environmental and climate change issue and often overlooked is the importance of a strong, active and participatory community. A fair and just transition involves working with the people of Bradford.

The next decade will see a major focus on investment in recovery, regeneration and resilience across the whole of the district. Every watercourse, every public space is critical as we adapt and shape our places for the demands and opportunities of the 21st century, becoming a thriving Northern District and a testbed for clean growth. As the Victorians did with formal parks and landscapes, so must we become stewards and custodians of our places for our children and future generations.

As landscape architects, we are in a unique position to really make a difference: through our designs, we can create and build a better, healthier Bradford. We must show strong leadership, creativity and innovation, and collaborate to achieve better health, environmental, social and economic outcomes for our cities through place making. From citywide strategies to the redesign of local parks, we must work to make places and spaces more sustainable and productive. We need to encourage our communities to demand more, and collaborate with the public and other stakeholders to achieve desired project outcomes, with a particular focus on the inner-city area and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to make sure they have quality outdoor spaces.

Award winning City Park, a collaboration between Bradford Council and Gillespies – this is the UK’s largest city centre water feature. Since its opening it has proved to be a highly successful city space for residents and a great inspiration and has delivered regeneration benefits for the city.

Saira Ali has a first-class BA (Hons) and Graduate Diploma in Landscape Architecture from Leeds Metropolitan University. Since 2015 she has been the Team Leader for the Landscape, Design and Conservation Team at Bradford Council. Saira started her professional career in private practice, at Barton Willmore, before moving to Chris Blandford Associates and later David Huskisson Associates (now David Huskisson Brown). She completed an Erasmus year at Laurenstein, Velp Netherlands and moved back to Bradford in 2003. She took up the role of Gateway Officer, having the responsibility for the development, commissioning and coordination of the Environmental Improvement Strategies of the Council’s Key Gateways.