Friday, 3 December 2010

What is the Vauxhall Business Improvement District and why is Kennington excluded? - KOV meeting writeup - Part 4

Continuing our series of "unofficial minutes" from Kennington Oval Vauxhall Forum (KOV) meeting (last month), today's write-up concerns the Vauxhall Business Improvement District (BID). The Means regeneration agency spent a spokeman, Mr Giles Semper to inform us of the proposed Vauxhall BID.  The Means promotes itself as "a regeneration and 'smarter travel' consultancy" and they like to think they're "good at making town and city centre areas better places to live in, work in and move around".  So, it's official... If the announcement of the rather expensive and ludicrously tall St George Tower hasn't regenerated the area and turned it into Voho, then we will be VoHo by the time we've been "improved".  This, of course, might not be such a bad thing.  Vauxhall is clearly the naughty school boy of the Thames who needs extra tuition and a good caning to show improvement and it does look a little rough around the edges at times (I blame the interchange), but couldn't the wider Kennington area benefit from this initiative?

I wondered from whence this sudden Business Improvement District enthusiasm in Vauxhall had emerged.  It seems that it's a Lambeth Council initiative, and Lambeth Council commissioned The Means to run a feasibility study on the matter. Anyhow, Giles Semper has a lengthy history working in the area (from 1997 - 1999), first co-ordinating the Vauxhall Employer's Group and working to regenerate St Peter's Church/Heritage Centre, which then hosted "Vision for Vauxhall" meetings.  The Means might be set to benefit from such an enterprise because they currently run the Better Bankside BID in London Bridge/Blackfriars.

On the face of it, a Business Improvement District sounds like a great idea.  Kennington Association, some months ago, tried to put Kennington businesses in touch with one another in a network, to keep in touch with the Council etc and to encourage a greater degree of co-operation. So, Lambeth Council's foray into this area should be encouraged, surely?  Maybe.  For local businesses, this promises to be a relatively mixed blessing (there's a question of cost versus benefit).  My concern is that the entire endeavour appears to be rather partisan, and biased in favour of regeneration of the Thames (favouring visitors rather than residents), rather than improvement of the area overall.

The problem is that the area which has been chosen for the BID is rather exclusive, and drawn up so as to include certain businesses that would be capable of large contributions.  Notice how the map that The Means have drawn up for the Council (marked by the orange line) stretches itself to include the Oval and Tesco, but fails to include any of the blue lines (drawn on by me) which are local and much valued shops used by local (and much valued) people.

The very long blue line, drawn at the top of the map, represents Lambeth Walk, a street that cis sadly neglected, but would be a fantastic place (especially the south end) to develop a joined up strategy for improvement.  The blue T-shape in the middle of my map indicates Vauxhall Street and Jonathan Street, that contains the Post Office which our community successfuly retained.  On those streets exists a mini cab firm, a hairdresser, a convenience store, and indeed, our very own butcher (P J Frankland) as well as other shops!  The lowest blue line on the map includes all of the busineses on Kennington Road (many estate agents and restaurants), and heads downwards to include Kennington Road post office, Barclays Bank, a funeral parlor, barber, insurance broker, a solicitor, a betting shop and several convenience stores.  Why are we not able to look at a business "improvement" district that includes Kennington?  The Oval is the Kennington Oval, not the Vauxhall Oval, and if the thing is going to extend down Kennington Lane to encompass Tesco, why wouldn't it go any further down?  Finally, the line at the bottom of the map shows where Kennington Park Road lines up with Clapham Road, and illustrates another parade of shops containing, amongst other, The Oval Lounge.  Why is the Oval cricket ground included when those businesses are not?  Essentially, because it would pay for the BID.  But the Oval's inclusion in a Vauxhall BID potentially excludes the possibility of its inclusion in a Kennington one, and thus the money is all directed at the Thames.

The following is a shortened version of what Giles Semper had to say:
"A BID is a company owned and led by businesses in a specific area, and it tries to improve that place as a commercial location.  A BID can only be set up if all businesses in the area vote in favour of it at a referendum. The organisation is funded by a tax which the businesses impose on themselves, which is a compulsory payment after a successful ballot.  Everything that the BID company does has to be extra to services provided by statutory providers such as police and council.  There are successful examples of BIDs down the South Bank; Team London Bridge, Better Bankside, Waterloo Quarter Business Improvement District; covers The Cut, Lower Marsh etc."
"The Means have spoken to 85 businesses (day and nigh time economy) in Vauxhall to discover the key issues in the area. The issues are similar with the night time businesses having additional issues to contend with.  4 key issues have been identified in the area:

1.  Protecting the area (fear of crime, environmental problems).
2. Engaging Vauxhall (bringing businesses together with residents around common themes, perhaps creating new opportunities for children and young people).  The businesses are keen to engage residents.
3.  Promoting the area as a visitor destination.  Historically, Vauxhall has been cut off from the rest of the South Bank.
4.  Transforming Vauxhall:  The traffic interchange and the environment around it.  The businesses are keen to work with other partners to see a better environment in Vauxhall."
"The tax on the business is based on the rateable value of individual commercial properties.  It's usually a percentage (1% or 1.5%).  The Means think that 250 of the largest businesses in Vauxhall could generate about £600k - £700k per year of investment, or £2.5 million to £3 million over the 5 year life of the BID."
"The Means have learned through experience at Baknside that any BID which thinks it can be parachuted in without reference to the residents has got a nasty shock coming. There are two resident board members in Bankside and desk space is gievn to the Bankside residents' forum.  The residents sit on all of the "theme groups" and the businesses are very active in a range of community engangement projects, some of which are very successful."
Tbere then followed an extended period of time for questions:
Q: Could you describe something that has been achieved in another area by a BID?

Giles Semper : 'There are 105 BIDs in UK and 25 in London and they're all different.  Most  BIDs tend to start with cleaning, greening and safety.  In Bankside, a team of dedicated cleaners have been put in place (seen in pink vehicles).  The cleaners tackle the kinds of problems that the Council's cleaners don't tackle eg. cobbled streets, tree pits, gum and jet washing.  Many BIDs operate some kind of uniformed service on the streets eg. rangers or wardens.  In Bankside, we have 7 wardens who operate 12 hours per day.  In Bankside, our best known project is the Bankside urban forest which is a design framework for the public realm between Bankside and the Elephant & Castle.  It's a partnership between the Council, the BID, Tate and some of the land owners, and challenges anybody that wants to develop to improve the standards of the public realm and develop to a high quality.'

Q: If a BID is set up, and is succesful in years 1 to 3, and businesses think it's great, but in the latter years, the businesses don't think it's good value for money.  What mechanism is there for them to end the agreement? 

Giles Semper: "The renewal ballot has to happen after 5 years.  The maximum term for any business on one ballot is 5 years.  Then follows a renweal ballot. The lesson from the US where these things were dreamed up is that they're usually more popular than less popular on renewal (and there hasn't been an unsuccessful renewal ballot in the UK yet)."

Q: Does it include Kennington businesses?

Giles Semper: "We haven't yet talked to the Kennington businesses to find out whether we should be one big thing, rather than two smaller ones."

Q: It's great that you consulted 85 businesses, with their different priorities.  At least some of the businesses want to get rid of homeless people and beggars, but the centre of Vauxhall is the centre of some major homelessness charities.  How will you link with those, rather than having the BID be a way of cleansing the area of people who live there?

Giles Semper: "The Bondway, Big Issue and other homelessness providers would be members of the Business Improvement District.  They would have as loud a say as any other party.  Our experience on the issue of homelessness in Bankside is that residents sharing their specific view that they don't want the homeless purged from the streets.  In that case, we work very closely with the Council's street population outreach team, and the approach is about housing people, and helping people, and not about kicking people out.  I do take your point though, because that's an endemic issue for Vauxhall.  The Chief Executive of the Big Issue did say to us, "do we not risk being the problem, rather than part of the solution?"  Those issues are on the table."

Q: I live quite close to Thames Reach.  I see homeless people who defecate in the corners of our parks.  I can't understand the idea of /not/ wanting to purge the streets of homelessness.

Giles Semper: "There are people who can address this issue with more knowledge than I can.  The Mayor has been trying to address the issue of homelessness pan-London."

Val Shawcross:  "One of the biggest problems we've got is that the E10 accession nationals; Eastern European workers who came to Britain to work, are not entitled to public funds or help.  So, when they fall homeless, they are not entitled to be given public housing, support or social security.  Lambeth has a contract with Thames Reach, Southwark with St Mungos, and there is some good professional work trying to outreach to Eastern European nationals, and where possible, to give them proper support to be repatriated and get into work, and deal with their problems.  People do not want to be living like that.  It's not just a housing issue, but an economic crisis."

Q: If new companies started in the Vauxhall area, would they have to sign up to being part of the BID, and are costs dependent on size of the business?

Giles Semper: "They would be brought in automatically. The businesses with bigger premises pay more than those with smaller premises.  A shop on Kennington Lane would pay £300 - £400 per year to the BID.  The police, the biggest employer in Vauxhall, would pay £80,000 - £90,000 per year.  Our largest payer in Bankside is Royal Bank of Scotland, who pay about £90,000."

Q: Would the developers building the big towers be contributing to the pot of money? 

Giles Semper: "It's currently the occupants, rather than owners who pay.  It's the other way around in the States...  The legislation to create land owner BIDS is being consulted on, and the mechnaism to tax owners, rather than occupiers may soon be available.  It would be a good one for Vauxhall!"

Q: Do you get more votes in the ballot if you have a larger rateable value?  If you're Tesco, do you get more votes? 

Giles Semper: "You have to win the BID ballot on two counts.  It's all on turnout, rather than constituency.  you need 51% of turnout by number and by aggregate rateable value.  So you add the rateable values together, and you need to get 51%.  So, the larger occupiers will have more influence on that part of the vote."

David Boardman (Kennington Association Planning Forum Chair) made a few comments and asked some questions: 

"1.  Is there any prospect of raising additional moeny for the BID in the Vauxhall area?  Is it amenable to Section 106? 

2.  People are clearly worried about crime in the area.  If I were the businesses, I'd be talking to the Borough Commander to say "put your resources where the crime is", and I wouldn't need to pay for extra wardens.  When the Council has had money in the past for Park Rangers, they've decided to give the money back to the police because they provided a better service for security.  Wouldn't it be better to pay for your own police, rather than wardens? 

3.  Kennington has its own Business Network so one doesn't need to have to have a BID to get businesses to talk. I'm not clear that the benefits of a BID are significant, from the 1%-1.5% raised, without drawing in extra funds. 

4. The main problem of Vauxhall is the gyratory.  Interesting that TfL will talk to businesses, but doesn't have the bottle to come and talk to the people.  We are concerned that TfL won't speak to the people who have the problem with it.  It should come to this forum for the community's views. 

5.  I have some reservations about the geographical coverage.  Why is the Oval inside, save for rateable value?"
Unfortunately, the Chair noted that there was no time to answer those questions (it was a very full agenda), but I'd be happy for anybody with knowledge about the proposal to add some comments to this post.  So, there we have it.

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