By Linus Rees
A postal ballot is currently taking place over whether to create a business improvement district (BID) in the central part of Fitzrovia. The result will be decided by an electorate of just 232 large businesses yet the outcome could affect half the neighbourhood including thousands of residents and over a thousand small businesses.
Until our report a couple of weeks ago there had been no mention of creating a new partly-privatised commercial district in the heart of Fitzrovia. There has been no public consultation and the majority of people living and working in the area have no idea what a BID company is and had never heard of The Fitzrovia Partnership. The ballot to create a BID and the involvement of Camden Council has been a well kept secret that even our local ward councillors knew nothing about. So who are The Fitzrovia Partnership and what are they up to?
The Fitzrovia Partnership were formed in 2009 a creation of the developer and landowner Derwent London who invested in this non-profit organisation to “revitalise the area of Fitzrovia creating a destination of choice”.
The Fitzrovia Partnership board of directors is made up of representatives of Arup, Derwent London, Make, the City of London and The Doctors Laboratory.
The chairman of the board is David Whittleton. He is Group Chief Operating Officer of Arup who are based in Fitzroy Street. Arup are a multinational firm of designers, engineers, planners and project managers. Arup boasts “putting sustainability at the heart of its work”.
Derwent London are represented on the board by Simon Silver. Derwent have several developments either progressing or planned in Fitzrovia. The BID is of their creation and they would benefit from increased rental returns. They are seen as very active developers and have won several awards. They have bombarded Fitzrovia with planning applications over the last 12 months. On each one they have wanted to increase density. They own over 1.5 million square feet of property in Fitzrovia including Arup phase 2 and 3, the Saatchi block, Central Cross on Tottenham Court Road, and the Margaret Pyke Centre on Charlotte Street which they hope to demolish and re-develop next year.
Make are represented by Sean Affleck. Make have their architectural practice in Whitfield Street and were set up by architect Ken Shuttleworth in 2004. They are engaged in a broad selection of projects worldwide, ranging from large-scale urban masterplans to luxury private houses. They have produced large commercial designs like the failed Noho Square development, on which Boris Johnson is reported to have commented: “What on earth’s that!?” They have worked closely with both Arup and Derwent London on projects and are the designers of the unpopular Saatchi block redevelopment.
The City of London are represented by Colin Wilcox. City of London own a large amount of property in Tottenham Court Road and Store Street.
The Doctors Laboratory are based in Whitfield Street and they are represented on The Fitzrovia Partnership board by David Byrne.
A seat on the board of The Fitzrovia Partnership is reserved for a representative of Camden Council.
They recruited Gary Reeves a former CEO of the New West End Company (and neighbouring BID) and who is the current company secretary of The Partnership. He has also been a consultant to InMidtown (another neighbouring BID) and runs his own consultancy. He lives in Grantham, Lincolnshire.
The appointment of Reeves gave a clue to the intentions of Derwent London and we have been trying to keep an eye on the murky goings on first at 43 Whitfield Street and lately in a dark basement in Fitzroy Street and trying to second guess if and when they would ask Camden to allow them to ballot businesses on a BID. They led us a merry dance.
So what is a business improvement district? As we reported on 6 June, Camden Council informed businesses with a rateable value of over £100,000, saying:
A Business Improvement District (BID) is an arrangement through which the business community can elect to generate additional funding to re-invest in the local area to improve the public realm, promote business and make the area more profitable for business. Under these arrangements, business ratepayers agree to contribute a small additional levy on their business rate bill to finance a BID. In order to go ahead with the renewal of the BID, agreement is needed from business ratepayers through a formal voting process, which is required to be conducted by the Returning Officer for Elections for the London Borough of Camden.
If successful, a new commercial district would be created in the heart of Fitzrovia and be managed by The Fitzrovia Partnership who would market the area and employ private security. They would foster more evening and weekend commercial activity and tip the balance from Fitzrovia’s mix of residents and small businesses towards a central area that is more frenetic and increasingly dominated by chain stores. It will be branded and packaged, rents will go up and it will lose its much-loved character and identity.
For a local authority which has recently renewed its commitment to democracy its electorate are wondering why Camden Council are not telling anyone about the BID and are sneaking it out just before the Olympics. And there remain, despite our enquiries, questions about The Fitzrovia Partnership whose articles of association describe different rules about membership and governance to their published BID proposal.
The result of the BID ballot will be announced on 23 July 2012.
Linus Rees is assistant editor of Fitzrovia News and a director and trustee of Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association.