With trading in the city centre being at the heart of Chichester’s economy, the area is set to gain a welcome boost as its Business Improvement District scheme kicks in.
While the initiative, which is funded via 750 centrally-located firms contributing one per cent of their annual rates towards a £1m pot over five years, has not been universally welcomed, there are many who have seen the merits of similar existing projects across the country.
Observers have cited the scheme in Winchester as being the closest in scale and type to our own, and it has proved particularly successful over the past few years.
The arrival of the BID comes in the wake of an Experian study revealing 900 firms have closed across Chichester during the past two years. As a result, clearly-defined projects such as this, designed specifically to offer targeted support to companies, will doubtless be welcome by many firms.
Having been put to the vote last autumn, a majority of companies accepted the plans, which include a rolling programme of innovative projects to enhance the city through environmental, organisational and promotional projects.
Chief among these are planned improvements to central street scenes through a range of imaginative floral planting to make the city more attractive.
There will also be plans to remove the widely-criticised A-boards that have cluttered the city centre, plus the creation of regular major public art displays.
Significantly, traders will be given greater support with the creation of an Independents’ Day (on July 4 next year), celebrating the diverse range of stores within the city. This will allow greater marketing of Chichester city centre as a destination.
It is also set to ensure the provision of Christmas lights in response to the previous festive season which saw Chichester gain an unwelcome spotlight as ‘Scrooge town’ when the city failed to deliver lighting. The resulting raft of negative national headlines saw the city suffer damaging trade losses.
Avoiding such scenarios is central to the new organisation’s key goals, with its City Centre Management Partnership board (consisting of 14 volunteers from within the area’s business community, including two council representatives), delivering defined strategic plans.
Its practical projects are set to be delivered via BID manager Kim Long, who is transferring from her present role as city-centre manager, which had been due to cease as the post is no longer being funded.
Next week she will be setting up within a new base at the BID’s offices in North Street, which will act as a core point of contact with the community over the next five years.
As the manager revealed, she is enthused by the prospect of her first challenge, managing a competition to improve the environment around Crane Street. It is anticipated this will encourage more people to make use of stores off the main shopping streets.
Professional design companies have been invited to submit potential plans including an arched gateway into Crane Street, with the final proposals to be put before the council in July to ensure its delivery before Christmas.
“I’m looking forward to moving into the new office next week and just getting started. There just has not been the funding for projects which we now have, which is really exciting,” said Mrs Long.
“Our first scheme will see £22,000 being spent on Crane Street improvements, with work on other streets including Little London and Eastgate Square to follow after that.
“We have already had some good feedback regarding our first project – we have had 30 expressions of interest for designs, which could be a public piece of art or an archway,” added the BID manager, who said the scheme would be narrowed to four finalists.
As she revealed, her work will be supported by a number of volunteers, principally made up of students from Chichester College and Chichester University providing assistance.
“We are not going to be afraid to make mistakes with some of the other things we do with street art.
“These things can be changed, but the whole point is we are now able to do things like this and that’s why we would urge businesses to become members of the community interest company that is part of the BID.
“It is through this we will know where to direct our spending.”
Andrew Finnamore, of Chichester City Centre Partnership, likened his role alongside the newly-appointed BID manager as ‘being like a marriage’ and hoped their combined efforts would bring tangible benefits to the wider community.
In his opinion, the financial power to bring about more effective marketing for the city and physical street improvements would pay considerable dividends.
He said: “It’s exciting to be taking forward the BID now and we are talking to the business community about the plans we have, and I’m feeling optimistic about it.
“Until now, we have been held back by the ‘no culture’ but we now have a number of community-minded individuals who love the city and who want to see progressive changes happen.”
Mr Finnamore believed the ambition of the BID schemes was to try to bring about improvements that would benefit retailers (making up nearly 50 per cent of the firms within the city) and other commercial enterprises.
As he admitted, there had been a broad perception that independent traders had previously not been given sufficient support, which he hoped its initiatives would solve.
“We want to make it clear we’re not in competition with Visit Chichester, but we believe we can improve the marketing of the city.
“So we will be talking to around eight or ten attractions in the city centre, including the Novium museum, the cathedral, planetarium and fantastic facilities at New Park Cinema, about how we can improve on marketing what we have to offer.
“We are also working with Goodwood on this, as people are not presently coming to town when the festivals there are on, so we have to look at how we sell the city itself.”