Marlborough takes first steps towards establishing a Business Improvement District
The first steps towards the establishment of a Business Improvement District in Marlborough have been taken with the formation of a Town Team.
Officials from Marlborough Town Council and Marlborough Chamber of Commerce met last week to discuss proposals to create a B.I.D. which would allow the town to establish a fund which would be used to pay for projects that would enhance the economic vitality of the town.
A B.I.D. can only be established in the majority of businesses vote in favour of it. A levy - typically between one and three percent - is added to the business rates, but rather than being given to central government for redistribution - a method that sees market towns like Marlborough receive far less than they put in - the levy is ring fenced and comes straight back to the town.
Members of the B.I.D. then decide how the money is to be spent.
“From Christmas lights, better signage, and street furniture to festivals and advertising and marketing campaigns to promote the town, business communities can really benefit from the establishment of a Business Improvement District,” said Chamber of Commerce president Alex Minoudis.
“The Chamber is fully supportive of this proposal, and we are confident that individual businesses large and small will be in favour.”
The scheme is currently working with great success in Swindon and has recently been adopted by Salisbury. Amesbury, Chippenham, and Trowbridge are all currently in the process of creating B.I.Ds.
Tim Martienssen, Wiltshire Council’s head of service for economic development and planning said: “Salisbury has 400 businesses contributing £500,000 a year. In Chippenham we expect the scheme to raise £200,000 to £300,000 a year. In Marlborough - depending on the geographic scope of the Business Improvement District - you could expect maybe £150,000 per year for five years.”
Mr Martienssen reassured the meeting that the fund would not replace investment by Wiltshire Council. “The money from a B.I.D. can only be used over and above what should be done by the public sector,” he said.
The first part of the Business Improvement District process is the creation of a town plan, and Mike King from Towns Alive was at the meeting to explain how a benchmarking exercise - funded by the town council - would help to identify the needs of the business community.
“It’s about understanding individual town centres and how they are performing, compared to other towns of a similar nature and size,” said Mr King.
“We look at the mix of shops and measure the distribution of comparison and convenience retail. We calculate the percentage of independent, regional and national retailers. And we count the number of vacant business premises. These figures are then compared against every other market town in the southwest region.”
Mr King explained that a footfall count was another important part of the research, indicating the town’s hotspots and highlighting areas that were struggling to attract visitors.
“We also look at car parking vacancy rates and conduct a review of the signing,” he said.
The final part of the benchmarking exercise is a series of surveys:
A business confidence survey is sent to every town centre business, asking owners about turnover, profitability and expectations for the future.
A shoppers origin survey will determine the geographical attraction of Marlborough, while a town centre users’ survey involves a mix of face-to-face interviews – collating the opinions of people who use the town - and online surveys, which seek out information from irregular visitors, or those who perhaps used to visit and don’t anymore.
“The resulting report gives you a robust body of evidence, rather than anecdotal evidence, about the impact of car parking tariffs, the absence of signage, a lack of parking spaces, and anything else a town feels is having a negative impact on its economic vitality,” he said.
Marlborough Town Council has already put aside £2,500 for the benchmarking exercise, and the Chamber of Commerce is to consideradditional funding or manpower for the provision of extra footfall counts. The exercise will take place in September, when the town returns to normality after the summer holidays.