Establishment of the City’s latest BID could bring benefits to residents – but only with appropriate governance and community engagement.
Shortish version below, and more detailed briefing notes here.
Businesses in the City’s cultural district and main residential area will next year be asked to help support and lead on projects including greening, easier walking and cycling, and reduction in air pollution.
Funding of £1,850,000 in the first year will come from a levy on businesses in the area, together with voluntary income and sponsorship, if there is agreement through a ballot to establish the Culture Mile Business Improvement District. There are already four other BIDs in the City.
Detailed proposals for the Culture Mile BID have now been circulated by regeneration specialists Primera following consultation with businesses and major organisations. The proposals have gone to ward councillors and residents’ organisation for the Barbican and Golden Lane Estate, with encouragement to comment and share more widely. I have uploaded proposals here.
The priorities are:
- Developing a sustainable environment
- Working together to build a better connected business community
- Harnessing the area’s culture to build a vibrant streetscape
- Building the area into a major destination for visitors and to retain and attract investment
Apart from the specific project proposals, I think that that BID strategy is particularly important for several reasons.
- It covers an area facing major change – with new investment in the Barbican Centre, the Museum for London relocation to Smithfield, the controversial London Wall West development, and the longer-term move of Smithfield Market, providing scope for major redevelopment.
- The strategy aims to bring together different programmes that affect business, residents and visitors, while giving business the lead.
- There is so far no other strategy for the area covering these issues. At a recent City Court meeting policy chief Chris Hayward agreed with councillor Mark Bostock that one was needed, but not in advance of decisions about London Wall West. See video clip here.
I live in the area, and think that the document raises three key issues
First, the nature of the proposals.
Many of the proposals make sense to me, and I can see other residents broadly agreeing subject to concerns about balancing the plans for vibrancy and visitor attraction with avoidance of the sort of night-time disturbance that this can bring if not well-managed. But see below for the potential devil in the detail …
The second point is governance: who makes decisions about the area. While the other four City BID are in business mainly areas, the Culture Mile BID covers the City’s major residential area. Rather than an entirely business-led approach, why not establish a Community Improvement District, of which there already two in London?The Power to Change organisation produced an excellent discussion paper on CIDs in 2020, exploring how residents can be partners in a BID.
The third point is engagement. There has so far been little resident input to the strategy, and there are no evident mechanisms in place to achieve more. While Barbican and Golden Lane estates do have associations, meetings and online communities, other residents in the area are not members of formal organisations.
Taken together, these issues could bear upon the detailed implementation of the strategy. This will involve a lot of fine-grain decisions about greening, walking and cycle routes, public realm design, and event management.
Residents will need to feel confident that the BID board have their interests in mind, as well as those of business – otherwise even small projects could easily prove controversial.
The strategy document offers an encouraging vision. It says:
“Collaboration sits at the heart of the BID model. Understanding the value that each member of our community can contribute to projects is vital. We want to harness the potential of all the communities that make up the Culture Mile area, unlocking new opportunities for all.
“Culture and creativity can be transformative tools that bring businesses, visitors and residents together, developing a connected community that has a shared sense of pride. The Culture Mile BID will be able to do more, support area wide enhancement and amplify the significant assets we have throughout the Culture Mile area”.
My suggestion is that before going too far those responsible for taking the plans forward should discuss with councillors and other interests how that collaborative vision can be achieved, and develop proposals to discuss with residents. If they are able to do that successfully, the Culture Mile BID could be a catalyst for positive developments that benefits everyone.
I sent a draft of this post to Kate Hart at Primera, and then had a helpful conversation about key points. Kate emphasised that these are still draft proposals, and more engagement is planned with local interests to shape the final proposal. Most immediately, there’s a meeting with ward councillors on September 5.
I invited Kate to provide additional comments, or a longer piece for this blog, and she sent additional information and a quote from Andrew Smith, Managing Partner at BDB Pitmans LLP and Chair of the Culture Mile Partnership. A key sentence is:
The Partnership is keen to explore what structures could be put in place once the BID is established to ensure residents and other stakeholders are engaged and feel part of the process.
While that’s welcome, I think there’s a case for exploring governance and engagement options before the BID is established.
Addition information from Primera
The Culture Mile Partnership is currently finalising its BID proposal, and eligible businesses will vote in a ballot in the new year. While BIDs are business led and business funded, the Partnership is committed to working closely with wider stakeholders, including with local residential communities. This proposed BID, which would be a fifth in the City and add to the more than 70 across London, is not about replacing, duplicating the responsibilities of, or being a proxy for the City of London Corporation, or other public sector bodies. This is about the private sector coalescing around shared goals and delivering on a desire to invest in and support the vibrancy of the area. It’s right for BIDs to work closely with public sector partners, and align with key strategies where appropriate, but equally there is flexibility and autonomy, and they have the resources and mandate to drive ambitious agendas that can deliver area wide benefits.
While the current BID legislation does not give residents a formal role in BID governance, there are many examples across London where BIDs are working incredibly productively with wider stakeholders. The Victoria Business Improvement is a good example of this collaboration. First established back in 2010, the BID is now in its third term, and it has developed a very close working relationship with the large residential communities around Victoria, and in fact is the secretariat for the Victoria Neighbourhood Forum. The Aldgate Connect BID is another BID in the City, which has a vibrant and diverse community, including substantial residential areas. The BID works closely with community groups and many of its programmes directly benefit the wider community, in addition to supporting its levy paying businesses. Its support of the annual Aldgate in Winter festival is a prime example of how the BID works with its different communities and supports local initiatives.
The Culture Mile BID wants to develop a similarly positive relationship with residents in this area. The Partnership is keen to explore what structures could be put in place once the BID is established to ensure residents and other stakeholders are engaged and feel part of the process.
There is also still the opportunity for residents to get involved now. The BID proposal has been shared with ward members and will be available to view in draft form on a new website www.culturemilebid.co.uk in early September. Ward members are also invited to a briefing on the BID in early Sept. The Partnership is keen to hear views on the draft proposal so please get on touch. You can contact the Partnership Executive Team here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Quote from Culture Mile BID chair
Andrew Smith, Managing Partner at BDB Pitmans LLP and Chair of the Culture Mile Partnership said:
“As someone who has been involved in other BIDs across London, I have seen for myself the powerful force for good that BIDs are, not only uniting diverse business communities but bringing whole communities together too. The Culture Mile area has a huge opportunity here – one that will be secured through the business community and private sector investment but will be felt by all that call this fabulous part of the City home. I look forward to working with our businesses and wider stakeholders to maximise the potential of Culture Mile”.
I’ve now developed a set of more detailed briefing pages, exploring issues raised above in more detail: