The next time you walk into a shop on the High Wycombe High Street or the Eden Shopping Centre ask the shopkeep if their store is backing the BID. Watch their reaction. Confused? They shouldn’t be, and neither should you. The BID should be on the tip of our tongues. For there are new heroes in our town and they come bearing gifts: the Business Improvement District – “BID” for short. It is a plan to rescue our town centre.
Now, it is in all our interests but you might be forgiven for not knowing about it. Which is a shame. Personally I knew nothing about it until I saw a poster on the High Street imploring us all to shop locally. It came completely out of the leftfield. I thought “wow – what is this?” I had spent four years of my life working for a community group advocating that we all shop locally. Then along comes HWBIDCo – High Wycombe Business Improvement District Company. Who were they and what was going on?
The BID is a partnership for the town centre commercial organisations. It is different in what came before in that it is intended to be funded partly from monies collected via Business Rates, public sector, voluntary contributions and other revenues. In order for it to happen a majority of town centre businesses most vote for it in a ballot before 9th July this year. What will the BID do if successful? Well it will put in place a fully budgetted five year plan to rejuvenate the town centre, make it cleaner, greener, safer, fill vacant commercial space, put on events, change perceptions and rebuild civic pride. It is all about getting local ‘footfall’ – more people into town. The town needs to evolve into a place where people regularly choose to shop, work, become educated, socialise and be entertained.
This is the problem isn’t it? Not enough of us are choosing our own town centre for these activities. We don’t consider it to be a primary destination of choice which leads to a dilemma: the less we shop the emptier the High Street becomes, the emptier it is the less attractive it comes to shoppers. A downward spiral.
The BID has also exposed the fault lines between small local retailers, with much invested in the town, and the large retail chains who might not. Despite the obvious mutual interest, some of us would be horrified if we knew the contempt some of the big boys have for our town. Some do not care about what happens outside their front door. This is a terrible shame and I honestly wonder how their local customers would feel if major retail brands became tainted by such contempt? Would you shop at a store that DIDN’T care about this town?
If I have one criticism of the BID it would be this: where’s the public in all of this? The BID appears to be Business-to-Business exercise. Civic Society and the general public seem disenfranchised. This is no one’s fault and only reflects the limited time and resources of the HWBIDCo team. I am truly proud that the Transition Town’s Local Food group got in contact with HWBIDCo in the early days and agreed to help setup and run the Wycombe Harvest 2012 (the local food festival coming on the August Bank Holiday). These are the sort of partnerships the Business Improvement District can demonstrate. It is NOT only about some isolated area of the town and the commerce therein. It is about all of us and the sort of town we need to live in.
Just look at what else the HWBIDCo has done. Look at those wonderful planters in Frogmoor. If successful the BID will bring more green space, more flowers, hanging baskets, a community garden and “green walls”. Not only that but they will deep clean the town centre and encourage the type of cafe-culture we see in other local towns. They will create a strong annual calendar of events such as food and cultural events in addition to the Christmas and May Fayres. They will light up this town and fill empty store fronts with elegant displays. And all of this is in addition to the numerous local economic benefits & cost savings the BID will bring. It’s an investment in our future. It will breath new life into our town. What’s not there to like?
What happens if the BID fails?
With no BID there will be no town centre management and nothing to arrest the downward spiral. The security of the area will decay and there’ll be no Christmas events, no May Fayre, no food festival. We will not be able to attract new inward investment. It will go elsewhere. If we don’t do this it could well put all those long term plans on hold forever. No flyover removal, no river flowing through the town, no cafe culture. Just more of the same. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
So, will your favourite shop back the BID? Why not ask them? Concerned citizens should petition every local store for their position on the BID. If they aren’t backing it then why not? If not then maybe we should simply shop at the stores that do back the BID. Each store backing the BID should put a poster in the window saying “We proudly back the BID”. Question any store that is not showing explicit support this way. If we are not happy with the position of our favourite stores then maybe we should petition them to change their minds. Imagine if civic society setup stall outside every offending store explaining to customers why they won’t shop in that store. Retail is all about perception and branding. None of the big retailers would want to be seen in a bad light. It is difficult to imagine any shop NOT voting for the BID.
I wouldn’t. So let’s hear it for our new heroes: Oliver and Gemma at HWBIDCo. We should ALL throw our weight behind this BID. Let’s hear it for our local shopkeeps who back the BID: Kitsch Me Kwik, Cartridge World, Local Roots, Ruby Moon, Mom’s Diner and dozens of other BID supporters from the Wycombe Swan, The Eden Shopping Centre and the Bucks New Uni. It is a good idea whose time has come. It stands alongside longer term strategies such as Revive the Wye and the removal of the flyover in modernising our town – and saving it too.
So if we save something this year let it be our town centre. If we march down the High Street for ONE thing this year make it THIS. Lets line up behind the HWBIDCo, let’s join our local retailers, lets join forces across local government, business and civic society. Make backing the BID a source of civic pride in its own right. We won’t get a second chance.