Last time I mentioned my intention of talking about the Farnham BID (Business Improvement District) in my next article.
Other local BIDs
Several other towns locally have them or are currently seeking to implement them. Guildford has a successful one, as does Winchester, and it was announced the businesses in Cranleigh had voted to establish a BID at the end of June 2023.
Godalming is working to the same time frame as Farnham, with the ballot to businesses closing on Tuesday, October 31, the results to be announced on Wednesday, November 1.
Ballot papers were dispatched to the businesses week commencing October 2.
The most successful BID I am aware of is that in Altrincham, Trafford, Greater Manchester. Their first business plan started operating in 2016 following a ballot in November 2015. Business plans last five years, so they prepared a new one in 2020 which was voted for, started in 2021 and runs through until 2026.
Altrincham’s first ballot had a response of 44 per cent (543 premises, effectively businesses), of which nearly 70 per cent voted for the BID. In 2020 the response was reduced to 39 per cent (508 businesses), but over 85 per cent supported the second business plan. This reflects their ongoing support of the whole initiative.
The number of ballots returned is very much like a local election when not taking place at the same time as a general election, or a Neighbourhood Plan referendum, so less than 40 per cent turnout. Cranleigh’s ballot response was under 35 per cent (181 businesses) but of those that voted more than 80 per cent supported the BID.
Farnham’s BID five-year business plan was launched at a meeting at the Bush Hotel on Friday, September 15. Several of the task group, who have pulled together the BID business plan, talked at the meeting, confirming the importance of establishing a Farnham BID. Having spent some time (last week) I eventually found a copy of the business plan on the internet (https://tinyurl.com/2bkwz6dp)
The attendance at the breakfast meeting was, in my opinion, disappointing,, but with the number of independent retailers in Farnham needing to keep their shops open for trade, perhaps not surprising.
The business plan is comprehensive, albeit with images and font text over-large. There is a map included showing the BID area although the hard copy indicates a different boundary to one of the digital copies.
I don’t understand why the businesses on Station Hill aren’t included for completeness. You have to draw the line somewhere, but it is not as if they are a million miles away from the core of the town.
There are 420 businesses in the Farnham BID area, according to the plan, with a total rateable value in excess of £15m. The plan states that 47 per cent of businesses are retail, 28 per cent offices. Businesses with a rateable value of less than £5,000 will be exempt as will businesses falling into industrial, manufacturing, etc sectors. I imagine there are few if any properties with a rateable value below £5,000 in Farnham but I could be proved wrong.
If the BID is successful, business will contribute two per cent of their business rates towards the Bid levy ‘fund’ every year for the next five years over and above the business rates they pay.
Speaking to one of the task group I gleaned that, based on the support of the bigger, higher contributing businesses, the likelihood of the BID being accepted is pretty strong. I asked several questions of the BID task group chair and got a response from Andrew Fergusson, the project manager.
The group would have to review the decision if the ballot response was below a certain threshold, not specifically defined, but I am guessing somewhere between 25 and 40 per cent. The response to my questions also indicates there is a massive degree of flexibility proposed when it comes to managing the direction that the BID goes in during the next five years. As we all know, things don’t stand still.
So what is the fund going to be used for? The business plan lays out the proposals. There are five major areas which expenditure can be put under marketing, safety, business support, access and travel and, finally, town centre manager. The largest allocated expenditure is on marketing, (29 per cent) which will include monitoring footfall.
The single camera that currently attempts to monitor footfall is badly positioned and in my opinion fails to give anywhere near accurate figures. The figures posted indicate Godalming has at least 25 per cent higher footfall than Farnham. That can’t be right.
Godalming’s BID business plan records it has 280-plus units, 51 per cent retail, 142 shops (Farnham has 420 units of which 47 per cent are retail, so 197 shops). The levy will also fund the setting up of a website and new appropriate branding. Getting residents and visitors to visit Farnham and spend more time and money here is essential.
Town centre manager
The employment of a town centre manager is the second largest expenditure (23 per cent), followed by marketing, then one headed ‘safe, clean and welcoming’ (21 per cent), not the best heading in my opinion. We need to reduce crime, including shoplifting which, I understand, is increasing, and not insignificantly here. Guildford has addressed the problem and those involved in the activity are, I imagine, now coming down to Farnham. We have to stamp it out, the BID levy will make that happen.
We, as residents, don’t get to vote but we can suggest to business owners we know that it is in the best interests of the whole town that they support the initiative. The cost to their businesses is reasonably small, minute for businesses with rateable values under £20,000, just over £1 a day.
I my opinion, the BID is the right thing for Farnham businesses, and ultimately the residents of Farnham and those visiting the town. Please encourage business people you know to vote ‘YES’.