Time to support St Peters Quarter... before it's too late

I thought it was a real shame that the St Peter’s Quarter Business Improvement District recently failed to win the vote for its extension.

The BID is now wound up and all its activities ceased.

To make things worse, the loss was by one vote – in other words, if only one more business had voted positively, then the BID would have been renewed.

The BID concept is simple – businesses in a defined area can vote to pay a small precept on their rates and the money collected is used, by those businesses, to improve the area.

The idea started in the United States where the focus of BIDs has been very much on regenerating the many downtown areas that had been abandoned in the 1960s and 1970s.

A few weeks ago, I was in Denver and saw for myself the fantastic work undertaken to bring life back to the 16th Street area, once a dive, now a vibrant hub. After years of decline, downtown Denver is undergoing a remarkable renaissance. 

BIDs crossed the pond and London’s West End was one of the first to test the model in a UK environment.

In Derby, the Cathedral Quarter BID was launched about the same time as the Westfield opening. The idea was to ensure that Derby’s historic core could adapt to a new post-Westfield/crash/e-commerce world. 

The Cathedral Quarter BID is considered a great success and, to date, has had no trouble in winning its renewal votes. Infact, it recently won UK BID of the year at the Association of Town Centre Managers. 

The area is attractive and bustling, peppered with fantastic independent and branded businesses, which is why the likes of Doc Martins, Joules and Jack Wills have all moved decided to move there this year. 

St Peter’s is another story.

Covering the geographical heart of the city, the area sits between the booming intu Derby shopping centre and revitalised Cathedral Quarter.

St Peter’s is different and was always going to be a challenge. 

Its boundaries include disparate zones that bear little relation to each other. It’s a long way from Riverlights to Becket Street, via Babington Lane. 

The BID was always going to struggle to create bespoke responses to the various challenges, both within its area and on its borders.

At its core, is the St Peter’s Street/East Street axis – one that bears all the hallmarks of the existential crisis facing the traditional British High Street. 

This includes many absentee landlords (often anonymous funds or banks holding in administration), mainstream brands in decline and fall (think Woolworths to BHS) and temporary lettings that might fill a space, but, over time, drag a street down.

In truth, if we are being honest, today the area can have an edgy air. 

On our walkabouts with investors we regularly witness, at best, low level anti-social behaviour riddled with ‘industrial’ language or, at worst, in broad daylight, criminal activity, including drug dealing and consumption.

Only last week, we held a meeting in the heart of the area, on a potential investment and the atmosphere was chaotic to such an extent that a homeless person, sitting in a doorway, shouted at a both a Big Issue seller and a guy ranting about salvation, pleading for some peace and quiet.

At that moment, I realised something radical needs to be done. People are beginning to avoid the area and its decline is in danger of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I read that one business voted against the BID because the BID did not directly benefit that business.  

There is such a thing as the common good and whilst the investment made by individual concerns is quite small, put together in one pot, the resource can achieve much.

Since we moved into the city centre, Marketing Derby pays into the Cathedral Quarter BID, £5 a week - more than the business quoted above - and it’s one of the best investments we make, even if we do not benefit directly as a company.

However, I’m not pinning all the hopes and fears of the St Peter’s area on the BID.

The area is central to the City Centre Masterplan and as a result the City Council is investing significant sums into public realm and will soon be taking opportunities like Riverlights 2 and Becket Well to market. This will help.

We are working with London-based investors such as the Moorfield Group, Steamrock Capital and Re-define who are all seeking to improve their holdings.

I hear there may be a second bite at a BID renewal vote in 2017 and I believe the slim margin of defeat this year gives this legitimacy.

Meanwhile, BID or no BID, it’s time for a concerted multi-agency approach to stopping the anti-social elements from ruining our city and costing hundreds of jobs. Safety and security needs to be top of that agenda, implementing a plan that knits zero tolerance with wider regeneration measures to build confidence.

There are some really fantastic businesses located in St Peter’s and we need to create partnership activities to help them succeed.