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In a recent article I asked the question: ‘How do we build resilience into our town centres’ 

Up and down the UK Business Improvement Districts are setting up to address exactly this issue. 

Farnham BID and Godalming BID are set to be voted on in September and October 2023 respectively.

I spoke to Paul Adams, MD of High Street Accountancy Practice Branston Adams, to find out why he is keen to be involved with the Farnham BID. He said: 

‘The Farnham BID want to deliver better parking, security, community events, and channels of communication between businesses. Our focus is simply more footfall and vibrancy for the town centre. 

There’s a real opportunity here to be a power for good and make our town centre a better place for the whole community. A united team of businesses has power and agency where a single business wouldn’t’. 

Haslemere BID however got to the point where they had raised nearly £60,000 as an annual levy from town centre businesses and then ran out of steam and patience as Covid hit. I spoke to Craig McGowan of McGowan Corporate Solutions to find out why the BID was abandoned. He said: 

When we started the process there were 4 banks in the town centre that were going to be massive contributors. They are all gone now. Then there was Tescos, M&S and Waitrose but over time it became clear to the BID  committee that they were not really on board any more.

 As Covid hit of course the last thing the smaller businesses wanted was an extra 2% on their rates bill. And the red tape was really off putting especially as we were all volunteering our time. We weren’t convinced that the BID would actually generate more footfall so in the end we just gave up’.  

What are Business Improvement Districts?

BIDs, or Business Improvement Districts, are self-governing entities designed to improve the business environment in a specific region. BIDs come together as a group of business leaders with a shared purpose: to make the region in which they do business livelier, safer, and more prosperous. 

Local business leaders and community stakeholders take the lead in forming and funding a BID. Decisions about BID initiatives are made democratically by an elected board. 

Over the last two decades more than 350 BIDs have been set up across the UK, serving diverse towns, cities, and industrial areas, including 70+ in Greater London alone. 

What can BIDS achieve?

BIDS can deliver outcomes such as 

·       Increased consumer footfall and spend

·       Improved staff retention 

·       Reduced business operating costs

·       Decreased crime and increased security

·       Improved marketing and promotion 

·       Support on sustainability initiatives

Measures are paid for from a central pot of money that is raised by a levy (usually 2%) on all rates payers in the designated region and decision making is made democratically across all levy payers in the area.

Importantly BIDS are held accountable for their performance to the BID community and poor performance against targets will make re election unlikely. 

Where are the nearest BIDS to Whitehill and Bordon? 

Aside from the very early-stage Farnham and Godalming BIDS there are plenty of BIDs close to home. Here are some examples of the kind of work they do. 

·       Winchester BID, has recently laid out a brand-new business plan. Initiatives include public events in the city centre to drive footfall and free training courses to support local business owners.

·       Experience Guildford has an extensive list of achievements including giving public access to free water refills, installing 20+ defibrillators across the city, and hosting an annual customer service awards event that is voted on by over 2,000 residents and visitors.

·       The Fleet BID was launched in 2017 and has since launched a Mi Rewards app that promotes local businesses and the Fleet Watch programme that helps business owners share information on shoplifters. The BID regularly hosts local events including a food festival and a Christmas trail. 

·       Andover BID is relatively new but in 2022 alone, BID security rangers dealt with over 2,500 shoplifting incidents and 57 medical emergencies.

Further afield it is good to see established BIDS sharing practical information on their most successful projects freely on their websites. This knowledge-sharing could be a positive step forward for BIDs, allowing them to operate more efficiently by streamlining the adoption of some of the best initiatives from around the country.

The Colmore BID, for example, share a 124 page ‘Green Infrastructure Masterplan’ on their website. Although it refers in part to how Colmore is taking steps towards embracing green infrastructure, it’s full of actionable research and practical advice that other BIDs can implement in their own plans. 

Is the BID movement enough?

Up and down the country BIDs are making great strides to improve their regions thanks to the motivation, drive, and vision of the business communities that lead them. 

And because BIDs are formed, funded, and managed by local stakeholders, their aims align with local priorities. At SiGNAL we strongly believe that the key to successful long-term town centre regeneration is engagement from local businesses. 

However the Haslemere BID’s experience of too much red tape and not enough buy in from the larger High Street businesses is cause for concern. 

I asked Craig what he felt was the best way forward for our High Streets. He replied: 

For me, success relies on people and organisations within the town. In Haslemere we just don’t need the added complication of the BID as we already have amazing individuals organising big footfall drivers like The Haslemere Festival and The Waverley Ensemble and attraction projects like the Info Hub at Haslemere train station. You just need businesses and residents to collaborate and you need organisations to facilitate this. In Haslemere The Chamber and the Town Council provide great support for the Town and everything that happens in it. 

Interestingly Craig is hugely optimistic for the future of Haslemere town centre, in spite of the failed BID attempt. He couldn’t reveal the details to me  just now but there are very exciting plans afoot which I hope to cover in a subsequent article! 

Coming Up Next .

In my next article I’ll be talking to Andy Tree, businessman, deputy leader of East Hampshire District Council and leader of Whitehill and Bordon Town Council. I’m interested to find out his views on building resilience and vibrancy  into town centres, and the role that he feels the local authorities should play in the process. I may also be able to reveal the post BID plans afoot in Haslemere! 

If you are interested in finding out more about local or national BID initiatives  The British BIDs Podcast is a great place to start.