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.
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.
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.
Coming to Croydon
- Streatham-Croydon women’s rugby training, Frant Road, Nov 2
- World War I centenary concert, Ruskin House, Nov 2
- MOPAC policing meeting, Surrey Street, Nov 4
- Personal safety training for volunteers, Nov 4
- St Giles School opening morning, Nov 5
- David Lean Cinema: Two Days, One Night, Nov 6
- Park Hill School fireworks display, Nov 7
- Grange Park bulb-planting event, Nov 8
- Streatham-Croydon women’s rugby training, Frant Road, Nov 9
- Brook recording studio open day and party, Nov 9
- David Lean Cinema, Paths of Glory, Nov 11
- Albert Einstein – Relativity Speaking, Spread Eagle, Nov 12-15
- David Lean Cinema, Ida, Nov 13
- Oval Tavern Folk Club, Nov 14
- South Croydon business breakfast, Nov 15
- Streatham-Croydon women’s rugby training, Frant Road, Nov 16
- Personal safety training for volunteers, Nov 17
- David Lean Cinema, Effie Gray, Nov 20
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
- Choose Your Own Documentary, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 21-22
- David Lean Cinema, Lilting, Nov 22
- Streatham-Croydon women’s rugby training, Frant Road, Nov 23
- David Lean Cinema, Wakolda, Nov 27
- The Last Sense of Sudden, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 27-29
- Ghost Stories for Christmas, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 3
- Fog Horn Funnies, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 6
- Coulsdon Yulefest, Dec 6-7
- Oval Tavern Folk Club, Dec 7
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
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