There are 181 Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in the country, acting for 70,000 businesses, but ten years ago Kingston was the first and on 8 May it brought together the town’s various stakeholders to look back at what it had achieved and to its future ahead of the vote on its third five-year term.
The South-West London suburb is home to two shopping centres – The Bentall Centre and Eden Walk - 1,000 international brands, 200 independent businesses, 750 employers providing jobs for 20,000 people and more than 31,000 students. It is the third best performing retail centre in London after Oxford Street and the West End, has the highest occupancy rate in the UK and attracts £1bn retail spend.
The BID, Kingstonfirst – one of the few to be set up as a not-for-profit company – focused on creating a safer, cleaner town centre in its first term and marketing and promotion in the second, all paid for by £9.4m of BID levy money and additional non-levy income.
Among other initiatives, the BID has introduced the Town Link Radio scheme and a Crime Reduction Partnership resulting in a reduction of shop theft of 11 per cent (Kingston is the safest borough in London), a money-saving recycling scheme, and a customer information kiosk outside the station. Volunteers have been brought in to welcome visitors and to patrol the streets at night, and 415 businesses have participated in one or more event or marketing campaign.
“In the last ten years we have seen higher footfall, longer user stay, and higher spend, and this is in no small part down to Kingstonfirst,” said Chris Paterson, director – real estate, Aviva Investors, joint owners of the Bentall Centre.
But the Kingstonfirst team won’t be resting on their laurels if voted in for a third team, as its chief executive Ros Morgan, explained: “At a time when consumer shopping habits and expectations continue to change, mobile technology offers greater choice, consumers search for the authentic experience, and the West End and competing centres such as Croydon and Guildford continue to attract significant new development, Kingstonfirst’s role is more important than ever. While we have achieved a lot we need to do more, and over the next five years we will be investing £8.27m to deliver further positive changes in Kingston.”
In the third term, it plans to co-ordinate a Marketing Alliance combining expertise, creativity and funding, maintain the town’s website, harness social media and create a new logo to front to brand. And it will deliver a cultural programme of events, a series of quality markets, and promote the evening economy to provide an authentic experience that can’t be found online.
Other improvements will be made to aid navigation with better pedestrian signage and it will front a campaign for a more joined-up car parking strategy across the town centre with better signage, simplified pricing and improved standards.
According to Morgan, shopping centres found the concept difficult when BIDs first emerged, seeing themselves as unique and independent from the town, but that all changed with the economy faltered, and everybody pulled together.
“The BID means strength in numbers,” said Paterson. “It’s an alignment of interests and joined-up messaging. From small independents to the owners of shopping centres, it does what it says on the tin - the BID is making improvements and being seen as one of the best retail centres adds value to the asset.”
Dr Julie Grail, director of British BIDs and former Kingston town centre manager, spoke at the event at the Rose Theatre: “If Kingston was under single ownership and had a roof it’d be a shopping centre, with a budget and with professional management,” she said. “But a town centre has disparate needs and it benefits from coordination.”