December's insight from Chris Turner


This month has been a frantic end to what has been a pretty appalling year! The Arcadia and Debenhams failures will have a major impact on many of our high streets, although the news was slightly allayed by the arrival of a vaccine. There are already innovative plans being drawn up for redevelopment in some of these closing stores, and the repositioning of buildings in our high streets will be a key challenge for BIDs in the next few years. It was interesting to see the Primark boss Paul Marchant launch a passionate defence of physical retail and call for more investment to be ploughed into Britain’s high streets in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis, and some of this story was picked up in the latest, very positive, Centre for Cities event on Online retail and the High Street, with some excellent Newcastle BID involvement in the event. Find the information here.  

Nonetheless, 68% of the United Kingdom is now in Tier 3, after many months of parts of all four countries coming into and out of local lockdowns. All this has given our businesses an appalling environment in which to work. A mixture of Covid, Brexit and a lack of Christmas trade has meant that many businesses face an extremely uncertain future and much of the work of BIDs across the country has been helping our businesses deal with Additional Restrictions Grants, ever changing security and safety regulations, marketing, and Christmas lights and festivities. 

There have been some excellent ballot results despite all of these difficulties and this month we congratulate Winsford, Altrincham, Newquay and Purley on some very fine results. There have now been a dozen BID ballots since the original lockdown back in March and all of them have been successful. Not only that, some of them have also had better results than they had at their last ballot! This really has impressed the BID community and does show that despite all the difficulties, our levy payers, both local independents and nationals, as well as the wide range of professional and administrative businesses, have understood the amazing work that BIDs have done in the last nine months. We know that there are some 56 ballots coming up between now and the end of March and we will all be working hard to make sure that these ballots have the same successful outcomes as the ones we have seen thus far. British BIDs continues to run a range of short courses on ballots and campaigns and those who want to join up please do look at our website here

Clearly, we are all working hard to get levy payments in from our businesses; many BIDs have already achieved some excellent levels of payment; others are having greater difficulties with particular levy payers. In order to help this process British BIDs, ATCM and The BID Foundation have joined together again to send a letter to a selection of national levy payers and have made the letter available for individual BIDs to send to any levy payers who have yet to pay their bill. Clearly, we are also working hard with local authorities to make sure that they understand that the regulations and operating agreements mean that levy bills have to be collected. The letter is available here for those who need to use it locally. 

Many BIDs have been expressing concern over the major changes in Permitted Development Rights - the ability of developers to turn business properties into residential use. The concerns have clearly been about the loss of a business community and its replacement by major residential use. Clearly a growth in town centre residential use is advantageous for many, and to be welcomed in terms of increased footfall; the loss of businesses in the town centre however is always a worry to most of us. The government has launched a surprise consultation on its latest shake-up of the general permitted development order, with a proposal from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) for a new permitted right to allow buildings to change use from Class E to Residential. These new Class E to Residential permitted development right are seen as the biggest and ‘potentially most radical’ of the changes proposed by MHCLG, because the rights are not limited to high street properties. They will apply to every GP's surgery, retail park, business park, gym, crèche, nursery or light industrial unit in England that existed and was in use on September 1st 2020. Further details are available here. There is a clear sense that if this is enacted, unless councils are very quick off the mark with their Article 4 Directions, the future of many high streets may very quickly become predominantly residential. 

The Town and Future High Streets funds are both critical for the regeneration of many of our towns and cities, and those BIDs involved in applications and project development will be watching with great interest the work of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee [PAC].  The PAC wants to see a full officer assessment of the £3.6bn Towns Fund. The full conclusions and recommendations are interesting and are available here.  Separately, the Future High Streets Fund, a smaller part of the Town Funds, and worth £675m, is taking a little time to be allocated; 101 towns have been shortlisted and will be announced ‘in due course’. 

We will meet again in the New Year, and we have produced our final podcast for this year looking back on 2020 and how BIDs have performed in the lockdown, do please have a listen on the usual places such as Apple and Spotify. 

Professor Christopher Turner, Chief Executive, British BIDs


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