BID’s report suggests the impact of loss of Allders and Nestle

CROYDON COMMENTARY: DAVID CALLAM is a fan of business improvement district schemes but reminds the town centre’s elite firms that self-praise is no recommendation

All Change! Croydon is the title of the recently published 32-page annual report from Croydon Business Improvement District, or BID.

Croydon BID artworkI’m a strong supporter of BIDs, an idea imported from the United States by Gordon Brown when he was Britain’s boom and bust-busting Chancellor of the Exchequer.

A BID allows a group of business people in a defined area to propose a five-year programme of improvements for which they wish to raise a levy (usually 1 per cent of rateable value) from firms in the area.

The beauty of a BID is that it’s compulsory: once a simple majority of the eligible businesses have voted in favour, they all have to pay for the full five years: there’s no back-sliding by freeloaders who claim they can’t afford it.

Croydon BID wasn’t simple to establish. It was initiated by Croydon Business, a wholly owned subsidiary of Croydon Council. The authority met considerable initial opposition from smaller traders, so it set the parameters of the BID to exclude them.

The BID, started in 2007 and renewed in 2012, applies to commercial premises with a rateable value of £40,000 or more, meaning it only demands money from the 580 largest firms in the town centre. Geographically, central Croydon is one of the biggest BID areas in the country; it generates £1.1m a year from its 1 per cent levy, with Croydon Council pitching in a further £360,000 towards running costs.

Reading between the lines of the annual report, it seems little has changed in the last five years or so. There is still a preoccupation with crime and the perception of crime in the town centre. A significant minority of visitors are worried about their safety, particularly after dark. The BID “relaunched” its Crimewatch initiative during the year, often an indication that the initiative in its former form wasn’t working.

There is a section of the report devoted to deep cleaning of the town centre with a picture of a man using a steam cleaner in North End. It raised a smile as I recall a previous attempt to introduce high-pressure hot water cleaning there. It met with much prevarication from council officers who eventually admitted that the cheap and cheerful paving sets they had laid would crumble if treated in such a way.

I was disappointed to see that Croydon BID organised just three continental markets in North End during the year. They are precisely the kind of attraction that draws extra shoppers into town: a place as big as Croydon should be able to support them on a monthly basis, maybe with a monthly antiques market in between.

The BID and the council are still pushing Croydon as a centre for conferences: they have been doing so for a decade, but they have apparently failed to convince the market. At one time there was even wild talk of attracting one of the larger political party conferences, but Croydon is no Bournemouth nor Brighton, let alone Birmingham or Manchester.

Matthew Sims:

Matthew Sims: cheerleader for Croydon

During the year Croydon BID launched a loyalty card and seems pleased with a take up of 4,400 by the end of March 2014.

But that’s not a figure to write home about for a leading regional shopping centre in London’s most populous borough with 365,000 residents. Maybe it’s indicative of how few people now shop in central Croydon: roll on the Whitgift rebuild.

The BID made a financial loss in the 12 months to March 2014: nothing serious, but an indication perhaps of the reduction in revenue it suffered following the closure of Allders and the departure of Nestle. The report is full of superlatives, never a good sign. Self-praise is no recommendation.

Now there is talk of BIDs in New Addington and Purley. I would encourage all the secondary shopping areas in the borough to consider establishing a BID: I would use one of the arguments that Alex Salmond used to persuade 45 per cent of Scots to vote for independence, namely, that business people in a particular area know far more about the business needs of that area than the men or women in Bernard Weatherill House. Many of the council officers commute to work in Croydon from miles away and most have absolutely no commercial experience.

You don’t need to be the size of central Croydon to make a BID work. There are a number of examples elsewhere in the borough and in wider south London where small BIDs have been particularly effective. For example, they have been used on industrial estates to install new drainage and street lighting and to resurface roads, making the places safer and more pleasant for those who work there.

Croydon BID will have plenty to do in the coming few years as it supports its levy-payers through the closure of the Whitgift Centre and other major disruptions caused by the redevelopment of large swathes of central Croydon.

It already enjoys a close working relationship with Hammerson, owner of Centrale, and Westfield, redeveloper of the Whitgift Centre; indeed, it hosted a recent meeting at which Westfield quietly moved the start and finish dates for the new retail complex back 12 months to 2016 and 2019 respectively.

The BID’s chief executive, Matthew Sims has been a cheerleader for Croydon for many years. I first met him when he came to run the Chamber of Commerce and did a splendid job, despite enthusiastic efforts by Croydon Council to poach his members for Croydon Business.

Sims and his colleagues at Croydon BID have already embraced the town’s Westfield retailing future. The rest of us might do well to follow suit.


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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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1 Response to BID’s report suggests the impact of loss of Allders and Nestle

  1. mraemiller says:

    BIDs are the bane of my life. Obsessed with flyering bans, over regulation, street cleanliness to the point of stupidity, banning all social activity that they dont view as commerical or not to their own commercial advantage and generally so narrow minded you could use their heads to cut cheese. The idea of all business working together is anathema to a real free market so they are really a very complicated method of increasing business rates in return for extra services and police resources over whom we’re supposed to believe they exert no unusual political control. After having put up business rates the politicians can then decide to cut police numbers and resources anyway so what’s the point except to put up business rates. The major problem with them is that no one really understands what they are for. The real concept is to privatise the public streets in the city centre to maximise company turnovers or the consortium that set up the BID. As a result they become obsessed with things like footfall statistics. Noticed staircases dematerialising out the Whitgift centre? That’ll be someone trying to redesign it based on footfall data etc. They’re really a fudge to try and get round the problems created by the abolition of the business vote in local elections. Except of course it’s the people who run the companies not the workers who exert power over the BID. Also they’re subject to problems like gerrymandering because there’s no defined area that a BID should cover it’s up to the businesses that lobby the government to set one up. The result of BIDs is that commerical streets become seen as a privatised business or a public private partneriship between the state and the larger businesses. They can then become obsessed with the political and social control of public space. That said I wouldn’t say they are all bad or all a disaster but I would say beware. Especially if you run a small business.

    Whatever…

    “For example, they have been used on industrial estates to install new drainage and street lighting and to resurface roads, making the places safer and more pleasant for those who work there”

    … you dont get any of this for nothing. It’s paid for by increasing business rates for the businesses within the BID area which the author has kind of skimmed over. There are some exemptions for very small businesses within the area but still I would say think VERY Carefully. There are some good BIDs. There are also some abysmal ones.

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