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True spirit of democratic public space in Bradford


The IPPR is to be congratulated on sponsoring a design competition on reinventing the town hall in the age of the modernising local government agenda (AJ 23.1.03). The Civic Trust, through organising Heritage Open Days throughout the country each year, and through the annual Civic Trust Awards, is concerned with public access to the historic environment, with the creative reuse of buildings and contemporary designs of excellence, so we were very interested to see what emerged.

Many of the designs focus on the idea of 'transparent democracy', with views into the council chamber from glass roofs and aerial walkways, or with the debating chamber as a new pod, detached from the main building. What this misses is the whole thrust of the modernising local government agenda, which is meant to address the democratic deficit and reconnect elected members to local people.

The real work of democracy is taking place, not at the centre, but in local area committees and forums meeting in schools and community buildings, as our Regeneration Unit knows from its work in community planning. The central town hall, often abandoned by officers for more modern offices, is freed up to become the focus for civic life;

a place at the centre for community exchange (See for example, Canning Town and Community Links).

Only one of the schemes on show really gets to the heart of this agenda: Witherford Watson Mann's scheme for the magnificent Bradford Town Hall penetrates the bowels of the Victorian building to open it up to local people in the true spirit of creating a democratic public space. This is the real winner.

Martin Bacon, chief executive, The Civic Trust

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