Businesses in Solihull plan to boost town centre trade with a £500,000-a-year business improvement district to stave off the threat from other towns in the region.
More than 650 traders in 18 streets in the town will vote on whether to establish a BID, which would see each company contribute an annual fee towards initiatives to improve the promotion, maintenance and security of the town centre. The improvement levy would see an additional £500,000 injected into the Solihull economy every year for five years.
Sue Yates, chair of Solihull pre-BID board, said the town needs to boost its competitiveness and attract more people through its doors. She said Solihull was losing shoppers to BID areas in towns like Leamington Spa, and businesses needed to act to promote the town as a shopping experience and a centre for thriving businesses.
“We have to address that problem by making the town centre the ‘must’ place to shop and work,” she said.
“The benefits to business of a successful BID are enormous. Performances are better, costs are driven down and the companies which work in the area have proper control and are accountable.
“There are now 85 successful established BIDs across the United Kingdom and there are many more in the pipeline. Solihull must not miss out.
“A detailed look at other BID areas reveals that they have all benefited in one way or another. I really do believe that Solihull will greatly benefit and that can only be good for the local economy.”
The pre-BID board are currently carrying out a period of consultation and plan to put the plans to the vote next February.
If agreed, traders would either contribute an extra percentage of their business rates each year or a flat fee based on the rateable value banding system.
Mrs Yates, a former president of Solihull Chamber of Commerce, believes agreeing to the BID would boost trade in the town centre, including at the Touchwood shopping centre.
She said a ‘yes’ would lead to better security, increased promotion and marketing of the area and reductions in crime, ultimately leading to a rise in the number of visitors.
Businesses in the heart of Birmingham’s professional quarter, around Colmore Row, agreed to the improvement levy last month, a decision which will see the establishment of Birmingham’s fourth BID. Traders in Broad Street and Brindleyplace, the central shopping area and Erdington town centre have already agreed to the improvement levies.
Nav Sharma, senior partner at Ruxton estate agents on The Square, said he agreed with the principle of the Solihull BID but had reservations about the extra cost during the recession.
He said: “I agree with anything that makes the area more appealing to live, work and play in.
“I would like to see more money going towards marketing to make Solihull a destination for business and leisure.”
Michael O’Hagan, general manager at Touchwood, said: “We wholly support Solihull’s effort to become a business improvement district. Should it be successful, the BID will not only ensure the regeneration of the area to the benefit of residents and visitors, but it will help to significantly boost the attraction of the town, allowing local businesses to take advantage of a long-term healthy trading environment.”
* BID background:
Business improvement districts were first introduced to the West Midlands in 2003 when Birmingham was one of 22 towns and cities across the UK to run a pilot study.
The not-for-profit partnerships, which were introduced to the UK after success with similar schemes in the U.S., involve traders signing up to additional business rates to fund improvements in their specific area. The levy, collected by councils, funds posts like managers, rangers and cleaners with the aim of promoting the area’s profile, enhancing the environment with additional cleaning and maintenance and making the area safer and more welcoming.
More than half of businesses balloted must support the BID for it to be brought in. Once it has been agreed, the levy becomes mandatory for all defined ratepayers and is treated as a statutory debt across the five-year lifespan. There are currently three BIDs in Birmingham. The first was set up in 2005, when traders in Broad Street and Brindleyplace agreed to pay a levy of about £500 a year to raise £1.7 million over five years.
Within months, traders in Rugby and Coventry had agreed to the levy and Leamington Spa had also voted for BIDs.
In 2006, traders in Birmingham’s central shopping area had voted for a BID to raise £1 million in five years and a year later the city’s third BID was set up in Erdington town centre.
And a fourth is set to be established after ratepayers in the financial services sector around Colmore Row agreed with an 90.1 per cent majority to set up another district.
These projects have led to improvements such as CCTV security cameras, police officers, additional road sweeping and refuse collection and litter picking patrols.