A business-led approach to creating a vibrant Reading town centre

NigelHortonBaker ReadingUKOn 1 April 2019,  two Business Improvement Districts (BID) come into being in Reading; one a renewal of an existing BID and the other a new entity. Together, they represent the retail and the commercial office core of Reading town centre. Nigel Horton-Baker, Executive Director of Reading UK, celebrates a modern model for creating a dynamic and thriving town centre.

In February 2019, Reading town centre businesses voted emphatically to create two business improvement districts (BID), renewing the high street-centred Reading Central BID, which has served Reading well since 2006, and establishing a new commercial district in the Abbey Quarter.

Representing over 650 businesses across the whole of Reading town centre, this vote equates to an investment of over £5 million over five years based on a 1% levy on the collective £100 million business rates of those businesses. It is a vote of confidence in Reading town centre and part of an innovative, partnership approach to ensuring our town centre remains a great place to visit, work and live.

Reading is not immune from many of the issues that affect town centres up and down the land - reducing local authority budgets, decreasing footfall to our key shopping areas and increasing competition from online retail, to name a few. Yet retail vacancy rates locally are relatively low, the town centre is buzzing seven days a week, Reading is attracting good levels of investment and Reading businesses are optimistic about the future. 

The secret of Reading’s success lies in devolving many local decisions to the businesses based here through the mechanism of the BID, bridging the worlds of business and local government (the role of Reading UK) and stimulating a pipeline of new office-based businesses, which, with an increasing town centre population, is driving the demand for goods, services and experiences. This integrated strategy to develop the town centre with its increasing office population and growing residential sector is supporting the retail and hospitality sector, which in turn provides the services that make Reading attractive as a business and residential location.

This modern model of raising private sector investment in the town centre has already been successful for 13 years in Reading, and is about to go up a gear with the addition of the new Abbey Quarter Commercial BID.  It makes sense incorporating the whole of the town centre within the ring road in two complementary and inter-connected BIDs and aligning BID services more effectively with those of the Council, the Police and the charitable sector in the town centre.  It makes Reading unique for a town of its size.  Across the UK, over 300 BIDs raise £100 million through the business rate levy every year. Reading alone raises 1% of that total to re-invest in the town centre.

The two Reading BIDs encapsulate the diversity and vibrancy of business locally – ranging from small independent businesses employing just a few people to Grade A office stock housing corporate HQs and thousands of employees of major names such as SSE and Ericsson. Already with the newly arrived KPMG we have six of the top 10 global financial services companies based in the Abbey Quarter; PWC, EY, Deloitte, Prudential and Legal and General.

The long-running Central BID is predominantly retail focused, while the newly created Abbey Quarter Commercial BID is one of only a small number of UK BIDs to represent the needs of office-based businesses.  The Abbey Quarter BID is designed to help create a premier business location attractive to UK and overseas companies in the knowledge-based sectors. Walking distance from the Elizabeth Line, it will provide an alternative to the high-quality business parks on the outskirts of Reading such as Green Park and Thames Valley Park.

One of the longest established BIDs outside London, on 1 April 2019, Reading Central BID will be embarking on its fourth iteration with a mandate to make the town centre more attractive and secure, support business growth, invest in Reading’s night time economy, as well as delivering business intelligence and information to the town centre business community.  In parallel, the Abbey Quarter BID aims to create a world class business district around the twelfth century Reading Abbey, by supporting businesses in recruiting and retaining talent, which will have a positive knock-on effect for other businesses in the town centre. Examples of activity in the business plan include helping deliver improvements in public realm and regenerate the River Kennet, supporting place marketing, creating safer and cleaner public spaces and working with businesses to help them attract and retain the very best talent.

Both BIDs are managed by Reading UK, the inward investment place marketing company for Reading, who work closely with the local authority Reading Borough Council.  By bridging the local authority and business and incorporating the needs of other key stakeholders such as the University of Reading, Reading UK has helped make Reading one of the leading business location choices outside London, with a positive net inbound commuter population and the fastest growing economy in the UK (EY).

And the story doesn’t stop there, Reading UK working with Barton Willmore (Planning and Design), the University of Reading and Reading Borough Council have recently launched a Reading 2050 Vision, a vision for Reading as a green tech city, a city of culture and diversity and a city of rivers and parks. The BIDs will play an integral part in bringing forward this vision and helping Reading to manage its own destiny while the world around it is in turmoil.

The Reading story is one which delivers investment in infrastructure and business services as well as a programme of cultural activity. In these hard economic times, it places business at the heart of town centre decision making and investment with a philosophy that brings retail, commercial space and residents together to create a mutually supporting economic model.

Reading businesses vote overwhelmingly in favour of Business Improvement Districts – 22 Feb 2019

Reading Central BID 2019-24 - 80% of businesses by number and 94% of businesses by rateable value voted in favour of the proposals put forward by Reading UK.

Abbey Quarter BID 2019-24 - 87% of businesses by number and 87% of businesses by rateable value voted in favour of the proposals put forward by Reading UK.

More about the BID>>>



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