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Manchester's Business Improvement District Launches

Jonathan Schofield talks to Vaughan Allen about a scheme to improve the city centre shopping area

Written by . Published on April 18th 2013.

Manchester's Business Improvement District Launches

MANCHESTER has recently created something other cities have had for years.

This is a central Business Improvement District, or to give the scheme its full name, the rather soppy, Heart of Manchester - Business Improvement District (BID).

The idea, to quote, is: ‘For a period of 5 years, focus on delivering customer service and promotional initiatives that aim to improve the attractiveness of the city and encourage more spending visitors.’

The BID area will have £1m to spend every year. It covers  an area from King Street to the Corn Exchange, the east side of Deansgate, St Ann’s Square and the whole of the Arndale.

The heart of BIDlandThe heart of BIDland

It doesn’t cover the Northern Quarter, Piccadilly, Chinatown, Albert Square or Spinningfields. Those other areas remain managed by CityCo, which represents city businesses generally - as a membership organisation.

Confidential interviewed Vaughan Allen, the chief executive of CityCo, to which the BID will report. 

You can read the full BID document here.

JS (Jonathan Schofield): Describe BID

VA (Vaughan Allen): In 2004 the government introduced legislation on the American idea of business development districts. This had been around since the 90s.

The idea was that a group of businesses in a particular area could come together and agree to put a proportion of funds together to form an independent company and finance certain things.  We’ve taken quite a long time to do it.

Birmingham has several BIDs, they have a very strictly retail one, a very strictly nightlife one. The nightlife one pays for a group of policemen to be always in Broad Street. You can have different focus on different activity areas in the city.

JS. Why are we turning to a BID later than others? 

VA. We did actually look at it in 2005/06, and I think that there was a plan then to do one across the entire city. But to get professional services firms, retailers, hoteliers, all these different sectors, and all these different businesses agreeing about what money should be spent and where is quite difficult.

JS. How was BID created? 

VA. You create a business plan including information on the type of businesses that are going to be involved, the area (the BID) it will cover and what you are going to be doing over a five year period. Then it goes through a ballot, organised by the electoral reform society. If that ballot succeeds every business falling within the type of business description within that area legally has to pay over a proportion according to their rates, or whatever the levee is, into the pot.

JS. How does it work in Manchester? 

VA. Businesses pay the rates and then there’s a levee on top which is based on their rateable value. There’s a separate payment, but it’s structured so that larger companies will pay more money usually. It’s not always the case, some BIDs particularly for independent type areas tend to have a flat levy of £500 or £1000 a year. That's the difference with how CityCo is organised which is a voluntary membership company.

BID budget

BID budget

BID budget

JS. How many businesses are involved in the Manchester BID area?

VA.We have around 380 retailers. This area covered is Manchester Arndale, through Exchange Square to House of Fraser, along Deansgate and then back up King Street, and then across into Market Street and up High Street.

View down St Ann's Square towards Exchange SquareView down St Ann's Square towards Exchange Square

JS. Given the state of the economy and the threats retailers face in terms of the internet and out of town shops was there much resistance to incurring more charges?  

VA. We got two quite opposed views. One was, “Manchester’s working really well, why on earth would we need this?” The other one was, “We’re not doing very well so we can’t afford it”. The majority group was in the middle who saw that Manchester was doing well, but that things such as the riots showed we were quite fragile.  Where we were going with this was very much about us wanting to develop events, attract footfall and to provide more money for marketing. But under the legislation it becomes a separate company which is controlled by the retailers, so it’s their money that goes into a pot they control. This is very different to traditional rates where they might ask, 'What are we seeing for our rates?'

JS. What changes will people see on the streets?  

VA. A lot of our core work is working closely with the council to make sure that standards are right in the city. BID will provide us with an awful lot more information and the ability to say what’s going on.

One of the big projects is a hosting scheme of eight ambassadors. For these the main focus is customer service, but they will be able to report in, for example, that that corner always has litter in it, that bin hasn’t been emptied.

Having people around the main streets all the time will feed back into CityCo.

In terms of officers CityCo will have fewer, but because we will have this expanded group across the city we’ll have a lot more intelligence coming in. At the moment we’re looking at four or five ambassadors out and about every day during week days, and five to six on weekends.

The new wardens and their natty hatsThe new wardens and their natty hats

JS. So these people will be completely different from the previous city centre warden scheme where you’d catch a lot of them in their red jackets smoking in car park doorways, hiding from the public?

VA. CityCo set up the original warden scheme but it was run out of the council. For various reasons, that became a mix between customer service, giving out fixed penalty notices, and enforcement - a very mixed message to be carrying.

The new ambassadors prime role is to know what’s happening in the city, to be able to direct people to things, to provide a general welcome

Uniforms are one of the issues: how to have them on Market Street without them looking like they are selling phone cards, whilst also looking smart.

We may not get that right first time, if we’re honest.

JS. Beyond the ambassadors, what else can BID deliver? 

VA. The other main focus is around events to attract footfall.  We know that there are certain periods of the year where there are dips that affect retailers and hotels.

So we are looking at a number of events at the moment, and within the next four to six weeks we will be able to talk about what those are going to be.

It may well be that one or two of those are going to be fairly big things, but also we want to look at how we can bring together what retailers may already  be doing, or what is already happening in the city.

Everybody in the last two weeks of September does something around students, but we don’t do a huge campaign across the city centre. By having 380 retailers around a virtual table we should be able to maximise what we can do for those types of events.

Neil Dimelow's 'Home' series, sketches the BID areaNeil Dimelow's 'Home' series, sketches the BID area

JS. How will you be measuring the success of BID?

VA. If there’s increased footfall in the city which turns into increased return in the shops. If we are seeing more people wanting to come into the city, more people staying later in the city.

Then we'll have a decision to make over the success after three years whether we go to re-ballot with the retailers.  

One thing we'll be looking at is summer.

We know that from the third week of July through to Pride (August Bank Holiday) is a dip period here, which in other regional cities it’s not. I know that coming from Leeds, that the Royal Armoury Museum used to have its best month in July.

Most August figures here dip, which leads to a circular argument between people putting things on and telling them that no one comes into the city. 

What’s happened in the last couple of years is that the Arena’s been able to put on gigs in August, you have the Palace now putting on a big show during August.

You're starting to see a few things come through, so if everybody did something in August you would get more footfall coming in and that would encourage more people to do more things.

The Art Gallery and the Museum have been really great with this in creating events outside of their institutions.

We’ve done things in Piccadilly with Manchester Museum, and we continue to work with them. We’ve also looked at what we can do in the retail core over summer for family friendly stuff. It’s good that Manchester Art Gallery is opening late once a week (Thursdays). We’d like to see it doing more.

JS. Do the dip periods not balance with the successful periods such as the Christmas Markets?

VA. Christmas is good everywhere, but ours is spectacular, which is a result of the markets. One of the things we do know from evaluation work over the last two years is that high spending is attracted to events, and good quality events. The markets, not surprisingly, attract a huge number of visitors, and increase the stay time. While there is satisfaction, there’s also a change in the demographic at high street as well high end shoppers.

For instance, the impact of Chinese students and families is now being seen all over the entire city, plus there are Middle Eastern links growing stronger all the time. Our international profile and the impact of that means we need to be aware of how we deal with those visitors on the ground. We need to maximise this.

Enjoying the Christmas marketsEnjoying the Christmas markets

JS. Does the BID signify that CityCo has failed. That we’ve had this city centre management  company and it's not delivered and thus you have to turn to a new mechanism to get things done?

VA. CityCo is a membership organisation and our membership level is the same it’s been for the last couple of years.

We used to be 65-70% funded by two councils, Manchester and Salford, this year CityCo is going to be about 30 per cent funded by these.

We have built up other revenue streams and this is recognition that the private sector has a major role to play in the city. It’s been more about influence than finance. We’ve always had ideas from the private sector but we’ve not always been able to follow them through as we haven’t had a pot of money.

JS. So this gives you more strength in your representation of the private sector?

VA. This is actually about people taking responsibility, for attracting visitors themselves and providing money that’s going to be put back into those activities, rather than expecting the council to be doing absolutely everything, which in the current climate just isn’t possible.

JS. Will you be talking to the actual land owners about reducing their rents to get newer businesses into the area, or does that not play a part in the BID? 

VA. Within King Street, as its part of the BID area, we are looking at making what might be empty stores there look more attractive than they do. There will be some involvement with the city council, but BID isn’t going to provide us with a new route into landlords.  

We need to talk through some more tactical solutions. A couple of the shops on King Street are up for let and you look at them and think if I were to put my house on the market and left it looking like that I would never expect to sell it.

One of the issues in King Street is fractured ownership. Trying to track down who owns the particular parts is extremely difficult. It’s something we’ve been pursuing for a long time.

Example of how not to present an empty propertyExample of how not to present an empty property

JS. How do monitor the city centre yourself and how will CityCo and BID work with the city

VA. Part of my job is going out and meeting people to find out what’s happening. Also my team and I walk the streets, not just in the BID area, and feedback what's going on in the Northern Quarter or Chinatown for instance.

We also have very good relationships with the city council and the police. We talk to senior people from nine to seven every day.

When you compare us with a lot of other cities, we are more engaged with retailer.

Howard (city chief executive Sir Howard Bernstein) will meet with the top ten or twelve retailers every quarter, and  he’ll listen to what’s going on with their trade. That doesn’t happen in Leeds, Sheffield, and in other places.

That conversation with the private sector happens in a very different way in this city. 

King Street: with its struggling retailersKing Street: with its struggling retailers

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+

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28 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousApril 18th 2013.

Where's the splat guns?

Simon TurnerApril 18th 2013.

Quango style flim flam. Doesn't even mention the Trafford Centre. Doesn't seem to realise that the retail offer in the BID area (Deansgate/Arndale/Corn Exchange) in particular is pathetic; too corporate, too homogenous. Very little you can't get in other cities, or the Trafford Centre. The big businesses and their cheerleaders like Mr Allen need to have a think about the quality of the product in the BID area. Find something original, pioneering, radical; all those things Manchester is supposedly renowned for.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousApril 19th 2013.

Come on then, do share your own good ideas before shooting this down in flames...

Simon TurnerApril 19th 2013.

This BID team have £1million to spend, you think I'm going to give them ideas for free??? I'll chuck a few your way though Anonymous. (1) Move the centre of this BID area as far away from the Arndale as possible. Suggest At Ann's Square. Underused space but ideal for, say. open-air art (Cheltenham have an open air art show running for 4 weeks every Summer) or secondhand book fair or for a flea market (see Brooklyn). (2) Better use of the big screen. (3) Fashion shows with each shop exhibiting (4) Establish a heritage trail with a historical site app so visitors can see the changes in the area, which encourages exploring and dawdling (5) employ people in silly hats to report overflowing litter bins. Oh, (5) is already on their to-do list.

AnonymousApril 18th 2013.

Good to see one of these up and running finally. There really should be more; a Village BID, a Northern Quarter BID or even a Castlefield BID. Self contained, distinctive areas would seem to be good candidates for these schemes. However all wil struggle to get large remote corporates such as the Pubcos and absentee landlords engaged.

The existing BID sounds like they've made a positive start. But I suspect eventually they will start to come up against structural problems such as (nationally set) business rates or the problem of having half the area covered by an enormous, singular shopping mall - a serious inhibiting factor for holding successful out of hours events, surely.

DrakeApril 18th 2013.

I think a levee would be where I would take my Chevy. This might be a levy?

1 Response: Reply To This...
Don McLean, EditorialApril 19th 2013.

Ta, changed.

AnonymousApril 18th 2013.

lately there has been a MASSIVE amount of litter in town, and a lot of overflowing bins, and bin bags left all over - it is stuff like this that really makes people not want to come to Manchester - my relatives and commented on it recently. Go to Leeds, Briggate gets jet washed every night, no overflowing bins, no loud singers and its a lot nicer shopping experience at the moment.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
James SmithApril 18th 2013.

We do seem to be slipping behind our rivals at the minute, I think both Leeds and Liverpool use Manchester as an example of how not to have a city centre. Whilst stuck with some of the inherent problems such as the Arndale, making the it cleaner, and a bit more interesting shop wise would be a good start. Getting rid of all the scrotes would help as well.

AnonymousApril 19th 2013.

Birmingham is much cleaner too...I love Manchester but the litter situation there is a the only thing stopping me moving there at the moment...because in every other regard Manchester has it over the other major cities outside London. The city though is really filthy, pavements caked in chewing gum, fag ends and fast food and other trash EVERYWHERE, at its absolute nadir around the brutalised Piccadilly Gardens! and also the NQ. It's so depressing and makes it seem the population don't have any respect for their city at all. The suburbs like Chorlton, levenshulme etc are just as bad!

Ann SimicApril 19th 2013.

Just read this and , having spent an afternoon in town yesterday I think that King Street is a real, sad mess. I suspect it won't be long before the Phase Eight shop there realises there's no point paying high rents in what is supposed to be a high end street when you have franchises in Debenhams, probably House of Fraser and various others. I agree with Vaughan Allen that tidying the place up would help. Not sure that lowering the rates/rents is going to help as some places are just throwaway shops with no long term aims and they cheapen the area as well.
I think all of this is reflected by the whole political situation and the fact that Manchester got hammered by central government. However, I am not sure that this is the whole story. There is rubbish everywhere but is it about educating the masses not to throw litter or getting out there and consistently clearing it up? I saw different groups of people, a large group of Germans walking around, several groups of Chinese /Japanese groups (not students but tourists) so the city really does have to invest in retaining its attraction as a destination.
Interestingly, I went to see the brilliant Aquarelle guitar quartet perform at the lunch time concert at the Bridgewater yesterday and the Co-op were holding an awards ceremony for staff and they came down to see the concert. What about a reduced ticket booth somewhere in town to encourage people/tourists to attend local entertainments, use local shops and facilities etc? The audience were mostly middle aged to elderly and probably have more buying power than most, it might help if they were given access to offers in town at the same time.
Very depressing and I believe things can only get worse...


Steve RomanApril 22nd 2013.

In response to Simon Turner's suggestion to establish a heritage trail with a historical site app, there is a self-guided Manchester City Centre Peace and Social Justice Trail that takes you to 19 sites of historical interest. It can be down-loaded from http://www.manchesterpeacetrail.org.uk or obtained by phoning 234 3244.

Steven AshleyApril 22nd 2013.

Improvements for retail in Manchester = free car parking. I used to shop in Manchester regularly but I will not pay to park my car when I already pay road tax and huge taxes on petrol. Who oh why do these dopey councilors insist on yellow lining everywhere?

Abi KirkApril 22nd 2013.

Hear hear!! I also used to visit the city centre more regularly to shop & use the local resturant (To spend money basically), however I will not pay the parking charges either, local authority greed! They really think these things through! The city centre is dirty & a mess with litter adorning most of the streets. Piccadilly really does need a revamp, it attracts all the wrong type of people. The shops do need more individuality, you could be in any UK city, why not showcase what Manchester can do. Why don't the council get people who have to serve community service cleaning up the streets or volunteers!

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousApril 23rd 2013.

Because community service is decided by the courts, not the council.

Steven AshleyApril 22nd 2013.

Agree with you ABI KIRK - why dont they utilise the street cameras to fine litter offenders as they do in other towns? This country has a real bad litter problem generally. The council should take the lead and have a serious review of the amount of street furniture it installs and maintains in order to control traffic and parking. The amount that there is means it must cost an absolute fortune to maintain. I say banish all of it.

Jim SymcoxApril 22nd 2013.

The Trafford Centre has more pleasant surroundings and of course FREE parking that's easy to get into. It's also clean, brightly lit, secure and with a good choice of shops and restaurants. It's very easy to get to from anywhere so why do Manchester council think anyone would be interested in going to the city centre which just can't compete - even just with the lack of easy free parking.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousApril 22nd 2013.

The Trafford Centre is convenient, sure. But only Hyacinth Bucket types or Peel PR people think its anything special.

AnonymousApril 23rd 2013.

Jim This is a private initiative not a City Council one. Presumable those supporting it hope it will have an impact on their businesses.

If they want to pay for parking well they can. Indeed I am surprised they don't)

C ThurboeApril 23rd 2013.

I don't think Jim is very sophisticated is he? Maybe not much of a reader.

AnonymousApril 23rd 2013.

Parking yawn. *Half* of households in Manchester don't even have access to a car.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousApril 23rd 2013.

(to back this up...)

2011 Census

Manchester District - 204,969 households.
Of which no cars or vans - 91,248 households.

This is 45% compared to 26% for the whole of England.

AnonymousApril 23rd 2013.

So even if parking was free, it wouldn't be of any use to (at least) 45% of the Manchester City Council population.

Kevin PeelApril 23rd 2013.

Glad this has finally been announced. Think it will be good for the south end of the city centre.

Steve RomanApril 23rd 2013.

"Piccadilly .... attracts all the wrong type of people." Where should these people go to in the city centre? Should they be kept out of the city? Should the Council not serve their needs too? With attitudes such as Abi's we certainly can't say we're a classless society now.

Poster BoyApril 23rd 2013.

'Simon Turner' is right. The sooner Manchester and the property-owning institutions accept the impact of The Trafford Centre, supermarkets and out of town shopping, the better.

Never mind the state of King Street, just look at Market Street and certain malls in the Arndale.

The historic scale of mainstream shopping in Manchester City Centre (and town centres generally) is finished, and the future is in the specific and detailed management of a City Centre based on attracting business and tourism (local, domestic and international), offering heritage, culture and sport, independent and speciality retailing, cafes/restaurants, ease of access and free parking, attractive public realm, cleanliness, friendliness and safety.

Manchester could learn much from the way many American cities have adapted and present their cities as great places to visit. If it did, the City could become a template for 'post-retail city centres' in the UK. Original and modern.

The BID is a small movement in the right direction. It's also time for Mr Bernstein to re-energise a radical plan for the City Centre and it's future.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Simon TurnerApril 23rd 2013.

Brilliant. And true.

Abi KirkApril 23rd 2013.

Actually 'Steve Roman' I was referring to the people who loiter outside the betting shops & amusement arcade that act in an agressive & intimidating manner, I was not referring to a particular gender or class! I just do not think it makes the best first impression when someone steps off a bus in Manchester Piccadilly for the first time.

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