Residents and small businesses must be represented in business improvement district

By News Reporters

Picture of Fitzrovia Partnership engagement brochure 2011.

The meeting was shown the 2011 brochure that was only distributed to 229 businesses.

At a packed out meeting at the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Centre last night (Tuesday 25 September) residents and small business owners agreed that their views should be properly represented on the board of the new Fitzrovia business improvement district (BID). The public meeting was attended by people from all over the neighbourhood who wanted to know what the business improvement district was and why there had been no public consultation.

The meeting was first briefed on how the BID came into being and about Derwent London who created The Fitzrovia Partnership and whose property lies within the business improvement district. The Saatchi block redevelopment which Derwent have approval for by the mayor of London lies at the centre of the BID area and would be completed by the time the BID reaches its maturity.

While The Fitzrovia Partnership had consulted 229 large businesses about the BID proposal they did not consult residents and small business owners. A brochure explaining the BID was circulated only to large businesses in 2011 without any information being given to anyone else.

Many people had praised Griff Rhys Jones for writing an article in the Evening Standard criticising the BID and the lack of consultation. The meeting felt that his views reflected what most people felt: residents and small businesses had been ignored by both The Fitzrovia Partnership and Camden Council.

Residents and small businesses had not seen the BID prospectus and were unclear about the BID’s role and objectives and wanted to know how the £1m precept will be spent.

One art gallery director told the meeting that she had never heard of The Fitzrovia Partnership or its business improvement district proposals until she read about it in Fitzrovia News. “I’ve been working here for 18 months and the first time I had heard of it was just before this meeting,” she said.

While many people questioned why Camden Council had not provided information about the BID or insisted on consultation others felt that it is now in existence and that there is a need to get involved and shape the agenda of the BID.

The only way to prevent the interests of residents and small businesses being ignored was to “be on the inside rather on the sidelines watching”. The view held was: “we cannot fight this change, but we must be part of it”. Most people were concerned with the rising rents and people and small businesses being driven out.

Max Neufeld of the Charlotte Street Association said that residents and small businesses need to be properly represented on the board of the BID. “We must have full voting rights and we should have two representatives for residents and two representatives for small businesses. It is not good enough just to be observers,” he argued.

Linus Rees of the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association questioned whether the businesses who voted for the BID would be agreeable to the inclusion of residents and small businesses. “Are they going to agree to this after they have just voted to approve the BID as outlined in The Fitzrovia Partnership’s proposals?”

One resident said she had spoken to BID participants Derwent London and Arup at length at a private event and felt they were open to input from residents. But others felt that Arup who are involved in the grand plans for expanding Euston Station for HS2 would not be concerned with keeping the special character of Fitzrovia.

Tony Travers, a local resident, suggested that the BID was only one of a number of changes facing the neighbourhood. “Compared to the changes that will be brought about by Crossrail, the BID is insignificant,” he said.

Others suggested that the BID could improve some things for everybody in the neighbourhood. There may well be common objectives to which all can subscribe but were unsure what the BID response would be.

The meeting was told that community representatives had met with Camden’s officers and councillors and sought to get agreement from The Fitzrovia Partnership to change its governance structure to include voting rights for residents and small businesses. Camden had pressed the BID company to amend their aims and objectives to reflect the needs of Fitzrovia and to change the composition of the board to include representatives of small businesses and residents. However, disappointingly, the outcome is still not known.

“Engagement” was a word that was used again and again at the meeting to expressed the view that residents and small businesses need to be included in decisions about the neighbourhood. Those urging engagement agreed the need to find out in detail what the BID actually intend to do. Some also argued that the community needed to agree on what its priorities are.

Local businessman Aristos felt that small businesses had little power in the neighbourhood. While there were residents groups and powerful large companies, small businesses did not have a forum to give their views.

The meeting resolved to press ahead with getting representation of both residents and small businesses on The Fitzrovia Partnership and ensure they have a real say in the future of Fitzrovia. It was agreed that a small group of residents and small businesses would seek to arrange a meeting  with The Fitzrovia Partnership to discuss how far their interests might be fully represented in the longer term.

None of the local councillors were at the meeting.

The Fitzrovia Partnership website.

2 Comments on Residents and small businesses must be represented in business improvement district

  1. It is important to appreciate that while the BID structure is legal the process by which it was established is illegitimate. The two are not the same.

    Here are some facts as to how the BID was created:

    *The BID brochures were secretly circulated to medium-large businesses a year before their official vote while being denied to the wider area.
    *The criteria to become eligible to vote was tailored to exclude the vast majority of the area’s businesses and all of the area’s residents.
    *Requests for further information to the Fitzrovia Partnership, which ostensibly was the front for the BID process, from the Neighbourhood Association have been ignored.
    *Local politicians were deliberately left ignorant of the BID timetable and details.
    *No wider consultation or basic notification took place.
    *BID voters were heavily and one-sidedly lobbied for a yes vote; those included the tenants of the landowners pushing for the yes vote which supports the argument of undue influence. There was no internal platform for an alternative viewpoint. The threshold for success was not 50% of those eligible to vote but the lower threshold of 50% of those which voted!
    *Alternative initiatives incorporating the needs of the totality of the area, instead of already influential sectional groups, by local residential groups were ignored.
    *The BID lead was timed to coincide with the Jubilee to Olympics summer period when attention was focused elsewhere and between issues of the Fitzrovia News off-setting full wider scrutiny; other BIDs audit according to the financial year not from August to August.
    *Attempts by members of the Neighbourhood Association to establish lines of cooperation have been unsuccessful to date.
    *There are still many people in Fitzrovia who are unaware that they are living or working within the BID area.
    *Camden Council has cooperated with the secrecy which indicates it is sympathetic to the BID structure and, because it would be impossible to believe that they have not been discussed, the BID’s aims unknown as they are to the wider area.
    *Camden Council has made policy statements about being more democratic and involving constituents which belies their contrary collusion in the BID establishing process.
    *Somewhat ominously, local groups which cooperated with the Fitzrovia Partnership were quoted as legitimising its existence and thereby decision outcomes.

    The result is that this large business strategy is now placed at institutional advantage: an unreasonable state of affairs that can in no way can be described as legitimate whatever the marketing department and public relations contortions would have you believe. A fait accompli does not equate to legitimacy.

    Belatedly, Camden Council acknowledges its collusion just as the vote veto period is lapsed: https://news.fitzrovia.org.uk/2012/09/24/camden-admits-failures-over-business-improvement-district/

    Also, while there are a number of business parties which have been at the core of the group of the Fitzrovia Partnership, it is Derwent London which owns about 20% of Camden side Fitzrovia properties which is driving the BID and those decisions have been strategically coordinated by Regeneration Director Simon Silver.

    There is no indication that Derwent is interested in protecting and contributing to the special character of Fitzrovia but plenty of evidence to indicate that Derwent London is positing itself to exploit the location of Fitzrovia situated as it is between Crossrail (as are the surrounding Mid-Town and New West End BIDs indicating large scale corporate coordination around Tottenham Ct Rd/Oxford St yet those both contain far fewer residents) and Euston train station’s HS2. See: https://news.fitzrovia.org.uk/2012/07/26/camden-council-should-not-let-arup-and-derwent-london-run-loose-in-fitzrovia/

    Crossrail is far bigger beer but the plethora of BIDs are indication of corporate directed mechanisms to steer and bypass normal democratic mechanisms. It is the structure rather than the sums involved in the BID which is importnat here.

    The example of the Saatchi block development which does not only include the Saatchi building and how policy objectives were circumvented are revealing. See: https://news.fitzrovia.org.uk/2012/07/22/what-will-the-fitzrovia-bid-mean-for-residents-and-small-businesses/

    To summarise, there is little to no indication that Derwent London is prepared to act in the best interests of the area as a whole and the established residential and independent business community. Even if there is representation on the BID board the entire process up to now has ensured that Derwent London is well placed to achieve whatever is being hatched behind the institutional set-up.

    Other major landholders in West End neighbourhoods have consulted with their local populations and made effort to get to know their neighbourhoods thoroughly BEFORE making long-term decisions. It would appear that Derwent London behind the Fitzrovia Partnership behind the BID has instigated and colluded in an elaborate process to not have that take place here. WHY?!

  2. With the West End bids and the Oxford, Regent and Bond Street project residents interests were equally sidelined and in practice ignored, despite dutiful community-friendly statements in the BIDS documents. The outcome has been that no funds at all were allocated towards protecting the local community from the impacts of the rise in retail success. The quality of life of residents has suffered considerably in recent years. Despite residents’ protests, actual provision for protecting ‘amenity’ is still absent from BIDS policies and funding. Major landowners, retailers and developers have far too much power in the West End and nearby areas relative to residents and small businesses, and this should be rectified. It is unlikely I suspect that the West End Commission will operate any differently.

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