Leading Chester businesses and key stakeholders are joining forces in an effort to reverse the steady decline in the City Centre.
Primark, Boots, Marks and Spencer, the owners of the Grosvenor Shopping Centre and several well-established independent retailers and hospitality businesses in the city centre are among the first to back an initiative that could bring in £millions to revitalise the central area.
Together with Chester Racecourse and Chester Cathedral, they are founder members of a new private-sector group that will develop and deliver a campaign to secure Business Improvement District (BID) status for a still-to-be-defined area in the heart of the city which will embrace hundreds of businesses including retailers, hotels and food and drink outlets.
Significant progress has already been made with the formation of the CH1 Chester BID Company.
The group is being led on an interim basis by independent business owner Paul Daniels. It will follow in the footsteps of Liverpool and 170 other towns and cities across the UK where BID status has helped deliver tangible bottom-line benefits and improved sustainability.
A Business Improvement District is a business-led and business-funded body formed to improve a defined commercial area. All businesses involved are asked to vote on whether or not to pay a small levy on top of their business rates which is pooled to provide a fund that can be allocated to a wide range of improvements, as agreed by the businesses themselves.
BIDs have been working successfully in the UK for 10 years, delivering £millions of private sector improvements. Liverpool’s successful BID generates around £1 million per year.
“It’s no secret that Chester’s city centre businesses are facing real challenges,” Paul Daniels explained.
“Over the last 15 years, the city has moved from being in the top 10 in the national league table of retail centres down to the mid 30s . As well as increasing competition from out-of-town development, businesses are being hard hit by a dramatic increase in on-line shopping.”
Paul continued: “This is a real opportunity to help address those challenges, and partnership is the key. A BID in Chester will provide a really effective way of enabling our city-centre businesses to come together and agree how they want to improve their own trading environment. The decision-making will rest with them.”
“It’s time to act, and a successful BID campaign by the CH1 Chester BID Company will deliver the change we need, not just to survive but to thrive,” said Paul.
“We will be talking to each and every business owner/operator and over the next few months we will gather views and ideas and see what they might cost and how they can be delivered. The proposed 1% of business rates levy will be amongst the lowest in the UK.”
Paul added: “The key message now is not whether Chester wants a BID but how Chester will survive without one.”
The CH1 Chester BID board members will be hosting the first of many information drop-in sessions in the Pallatine Room of the Town Hall on Tuesday 8th October between 4.30pm and 6.30pm and all businesses are encouraged to come along and share their views and ideas with the CH1 Chester BID board.
A CH1 website is under construction which will provide more information on what the Chester BID is, its proposed boundary, board members and how city businesses can get involved.
CH1 Chester BID board founding member Errol Edwards, Primark’s General Manager in Chester, welcomed the new initiative.
“BIDs are the most cost effective and inclusive way of bringing a whole city together to work on delivering enhancements which, without question, improve the environment for its visitors, residents and shoppers and I’m delighted to be involved.
“I’ve seen at first hand the fantastic improvements delivered by other BIDs across the country where Primark has a store, including in Liverpool. The Liverpool BID now brings in over £1m per annum from the city centre businesses – why not Chester?”
Independent owner of the Watergate St Art Gallery and CH1 BID Board member Alex Sharpe said: “In this day and age businesses cannot realistically expect the local council to fund all the ‘add ons’ we would like to see in Chester, such as dedicated Chester marketing campaigns, welcome hosts throughout the city and increases in seasonal activities.
“I hope many other business owners/managers share our commitment to this city and will also be prepared to give time and money to the BID.
“I’m keen to hear from all businesses on what they would like to see happen over the next few years so we can build a business plan around their suggestions and plan our spend effectively. I want the Watergate St Art Gallery to be here in 5, 10, 50 years and I genuinely feel that a BID is the best option to achieving that.
“I will be urging all my fellow businesses to vote YES when the time comes next year to vote for a BID.”
Also representing CH1 Chester BID Company is Bride Hall – joint owners of Grosvenor Shopping Centre. Director Roger Gorham commented: “We cannot be complacent. Chester has stood still whilst other towns and cities have moved forward. We need to improve the physical environment, and enhance and promote the city’s offer, making Chester a place where people want to visit, work and live.”
He added: “The BID will enable us to make this step change. We have joined the CH1 Chester BID board to work with businesses and key stakeholders to deliver change for a better Chester.”
Chester Renaissance Chief Executive Rita Waters will be seconded to work with the CH1 Chester BID board, bringing her experience of leading Liverpool through a successful BID process.