The letters B.I.D probably don’t mean anything to you. But to a large number of London communities they mean a great deal – which is why I want to tell you about Business Improvement Districts or BIDs, as they are widely known.
London has witnessed significant growth in BIDs over the past mayoral term;
- But what exactly do they do?
- What difference are they making to local areas?
- Do they support regeneration?
- What issues do they raise for the traditional division of responsibility for services between the public and private sectors?
London is currently home to 45 BIDs, that’s up from 32 in 2013.
BIDs are a business-led and business funded body formed to improve a defined commercial area.
They come in many shapes and forms – from those with hundreds of retail business members in town centres, to industrial ones predominantly focused on security.
As the number of BIDs in London has risen, their role has expanded in many cases.
Mary Portas, in her review of high streets, recommended that BIDs be given a wider range of powers to support high street regeneration. They should have the right to bid to run local services and design local improvement plans.
By doing this;
- Are BIDs simply stepping into the breach to address cuts to local regeneration budgets, which have left areas with less funding for high street regeneration?
- Where BIDs do have a significant role in running town centres, like in the U.S, voices have critically stated that this puts the public realm under the management of private businesses. To what extent is this happening in London and is this a cause for concern or celebration?
From our initial conversations, we know BIDs are involved in a wide range of activities, for example responsibilities include improving security, street cleaning and making high streets greener and more pleasant.
But every BID delivers services tailored to the needs of its members and the wider community.
Some are taking on more of the responsibilities envisaged by Portas to shape the strategic design and long term direction of places. In some areas BIDs are taking responsibility for promoting improvements to markets and the public realm that local authorities have typically led.
The London Assembly Regeneration Committee is currently investigating the role of BIDs in high street regeneration and our investigation kicked off with visits to two contrasting BIDs.
We visited Brixton BID which, over the last eighteen months has helped deliver Pop Brixton (a temporary workspace aimed at local companies and employees), a deep street clean and marketing training for its member businesses. The BID has also proposed plans to manage Brixton’s famous street markets. Lambeth Council representatives explained that the borough had lost its Town Centre Manager as a result of budget cuts, and the BID provides a coordinating role to engage the business community in plans for upgrades to the street market trading environment.
Visiting the Baker Street Quarter Partnership that same afternoon, we saw how this large central London BID serves a different purpose. While its objective is not to drive higher footfall in the area, one of the BID’s major priorities is leading a campaign to deliver a two-way traffic system on Baker Street; removing the gyratory, which in their view, cuts potential customers off from local businesses.
The Mayor has a target for 50 BIDs in London by the end of his Mayoral term. It looks likely that this will be met, but London’s BIDs are not evenly spread across the capital. While some boroughs have several BIDs, others have none. Why is this? What influences where BIDs are established and the kinds of activities they are involved in?
There are many questions to be answered, which is why the Regeneration Committee is keen to hear from BIDs, local authorities and the many organisations that interact with BIDs.
We want to know what you think about the role they play in local areas, how they have an impact on regeneration, whose interests they serve, whether expansion of their activities has any implications for local accountability, and what, if any, targets the next Mayor should have for BIDs.
Gareth Bacon AM is Chairman of the London Assembly Regeneration Committee.