Business Improvement Districts – BIDs – were first created in 2004 to revitalise and fund services in defined boundaries of town/city centres. They are funded by a 1.5 – 2% subsidy for a 5 year period, on all business rates in the designated area. The money is ring-fenced and how it is spent is then discussed and agreed by the participating businesses. The idea was adapted from similar successful schemes originating in Canada and the US. The funds cannot be used to replace services that should be provided as part of the local council’s remit already paid for by local taxes and standard business rates. The projects funded are individual to the requirements of the town/city, to improve amenities, raise footfall and provide support for local businesses.
Sixteen years on, Tangent became aware of the proposal for the establishment of a BID for Brecon, the market town located in the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Over the past year we also learned that Northwich, another market town in Cheshire has been slowly revitalised, with improved customer parking, signage, cleanliness and amenities which have in turn brought new investment and businesses into the town centre. Once Tangent realised that there was an existing Northwich BID that was renewed in June 2019 (BID2) for a further 5 years, voted for by 77% (increased majority) of the businesses that took part in the ballot, we thought it was worth investigating how it had helped rejuvenate the town.
Comparisons between the two market towns show similarities and distinct differences. Northwich has a relatively small shopping centre, but has a much bigger catchment area of surrounding villages and urban conurbations and an overall population of approx. 47,800 (including all the outlying residential areas). Its history is industrial (salt mines and chemical industries) and it is a commuter town with direct services to Manchester, Chester and Warrington then on to Birmingham, Liverpool and London. There is an above average standard of education in the area, a 34% homeownership and below average numbers of people receiving benefits. The main shopping area has a good balance of unique and specialist independent businesses mixed with major national retailers, a covered market and a monthly artisan market selling hand-crafted products.
Up until the creation of the BID the centre had felt run down and neglected. BID revenue has been used to fund promotion of the Visit Northwich brand which promotes the retail, leisure, green spaces, heritage assets and waterways of the town. It has also supported the town council by investing in Christmas lights and several annual events. The BID project partners with Cheshire Police and CCTV Team and part funds a dedicated police community support officer, resulting in a marked reduction in street crime and vandalism. One result of the faith shown by the rate payers has been a huge increase in investment for the town by the county council, creating the new Barons Quay Development – 5 screen cinema, retail outlets, restaurants and leisure outlets – which has in turn lead to private investment, with a 75% take-up of the units within the new complex.
Brecon is a compact town with a population of approx. 8,500. Development is restricted by its location within the Brecon Beacons National Park, which also makes it a destination centre for 23% of the 350,000 visitors to the park last year. There is no direct rail link but there are good bus links to Cardiff, Abergavenny and Swansea. It has a very similar demographic to Northwich, with the same above average standard of education, a slightly higher (43.9%) level of home ownership and only 12.4% of people in the area in receipt of benefits. The town centre has a high level of independent shops, craft & art galleries, second-hand bookshops, a covered market hall dating from 1840 and many cafés. The recently refurbished museum and art gallery, cathedral, theatre and river and canal-side walks offer recreational activities. The architecture is predominantly Georgian, but a lack of investment has led to many retail buildings appearing run down and neglected and several vacant shop units.
This is a direct parallel with the situation in Northwich prior to the 2014 BID being set up. The proposal for a similar BID for Brecon is hoping to increase the opportunities presented by its location “by converting visitors to local customers” and creating promotion and branding to attract new custom. The vote, open to all businesses in the town, will commence on 23rd January and close on the 20th February and the result will be announced as soon as possible after this date. If successful, the new BID will commence delivery of services on 1st April 2020. A copy of the Business Plan can be seen through the link to the official website. It remains to be seen if a successful ballot and implementation of a BID will bring the same level of success witnessed in Northwich.