What role should BIDs play?

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Leicester Square Improvements © Burns and Nice

BIDs must capitalise on the good work they have done in their 10 years of existence in the UK and the ‘retreat’ of local and national government, with further support for much-needed services and place-shaping. But they should also perhaps be armed with new powers as statutory planning consultees and to take on the utilities firms as they ‘wreck’ the public realm that BIDs do so much to help shape.

Those were some of the key points made at a special Think Tank session on the role BIDs should play in supporting London’s growth over the next decade, involving experts in this area.

Chief executive of British BIDs Julie Grail said that, a decade into the programme, there have been 349 ballots held in those 10 years with a success rate of 83%, with 204 now in place across the country and, significantly, Leeds marking the 200th in March as an entire city taken through a ballot all in one go. Predominantly these are in town centres, although there are some industrial BIDs and another category called tourism that takes in sites in Bournemouth, Inverness and Loch Ness and Great Yarmouth. In London there are 41 active BIDS, dealing in things like waste management, crime and safety measures, events, promotion and even quirkier items such the creation of green walls, as has been done in Victoria and Paddington. But Grail said she believes BIDs have moved on from basic place management and ‘janitorial’ matters into a ‘real evolution into brave and quite deliberate place-shaping.’ Buoyed by stronger leadership, BIDs are now also taking on ‘really solid place branding’ and can be even stronger if they collaborate with others. The future will probably involve more transparency and perhaps even electronic voting to aid ballots. ‘The message is that there’s a real recognition that BIDs are very positive and needed’, said Grail. ‘At the moment there’s a real positivity about it.’ 

Key successes in BIDs in London included, for Atkins design director Peter Heath, the assistance provided in lobbying and other support towards two-way working in Piccadilly Circus, Pall Mall and the next phase of Haymarket. With time being money, and consultation ‘huge’ money, BIDs do a great deal on this front, sometimes more even than local authorities with better resources, he added. In Kingston, said Ros Morgan, Chief Executive, Kingston First, the authority decided to negotiate services to be transferred across to the BID six years ago, but if the same thing happened today, Morgan believes far less of the money that came with it would have been involved. So it proves the need to try and ring-fence such funds for at least five years as a go. Today Kingston is considering going independent, retaining business rates in the area; if it succeeds many more will follow, she said. But BIDs’ main successes have been in understanding the needs of an area and actually working out how to achieve those needs in a ‘nuanced’ way, said Central director Pat Brown. The language that has come with the process has moved from BIDs being ‘additional’, to – from the United States – supplemental, not supplementary, while BIDs such as Better Bankside have helped immensely in the place-shaping side of the equation. That is even if, said Heath, the proportion of seeding money going into physical improvement works is still too low given the priority public realm and place-shaping issues now have. So it should be a point of promotion that the public realm as it now is wouldn’t be there without the key names that have been involved in the BID movement, added Brown.

BIDs are also great at advocacy, said Portman Estate strategic projects director Simon Loomes, and at attracting funding to their localities – perhaps they could have access to CIL in future, in an ideal world. The make-up of central London is very dominated by overseas purchasers who don’t necessarily have the same priorities as traditional English owners of property, said Farebrother partner Alistair Subba-Row. Ros Morgan believes that BIDs should be seen as a statutory consultee for any planning and regeneration of an area. ‘I think that is something that could really place BIDs right up there at the forefront’, she said. And yet many politicians don’t understand what an influence BIDs can have, said GLA director Maria Diaz-Palomares. Many think it is a threat to their power, and more should be done on collaboration, working together, and publicising what the benefits of a BID is. Partly this is because of a time issue and people’s heads being down getting ballots through, said Heart of London BID chief executive Sarah Porter. This is a young movement, and advances have been made in the last three years on collaborating across BIDs. But perhaps the next era could be about more collaboration and improving the conversation between BIDs, the mayor’s office and TfL, for example, said Westminster’s acting head of economic development Steve Carr. Their relationship with neighbourhood forums is less clear-cut. LSE London director Tony Travers believes the existence of both is evidence of the complex nature of the way governments both locally and nationally view different voices as they pull back from the scene. There will be times when they have ‘spectacularly different interests’, he said. The government review of non-domestic rates will also have ramifications for BIDs, and if business rates were abolished it was hard to see BIDs lasting, said Travers. But on a personal note, Travers said it would be ideal if BIDs could be invested with powers to come down on utilities that ‘wreck the public realm’ like a tonne of bricks, with naming and shaming at the very least. Their work in improving freight consolidation is another area for BIDs to pursue.

Ultimately, it is no longer an ‘accident’ that the government has seen the ability of BIDs to raise funds’, said Julie Grail, with the prospect of T BIDS and late night levies representing ‘strands of opportunity’. ‘BIDs have shown what they can do in terms of achieving spend and voice locally, and therefore everyone’s trying to emulate that’, she said. ‘In some ways that’s good and in some ways it’s very dangerous. And that’s what we need to look out for’.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly 

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