A number of civic societies have been in touch to ask a simple question – What is a Community Improvement? District?

A recent Civic Voice ‘In Conversation’ invited Phil Prentice (@phil_prentice) to share his perspectives on a Community Improvement District pilot in Scotland. After being joined by Phil, for this session, I am even more convinced that the future is Community Improvement Districts. 

My own progression to ‘Community Improvement Districts’, builds on from the Big Conservation Conservation and my work championing  ‘Conservation Area Improvement Districts’. With 100s of conservation areas being high streets in their own right, I wanted to explore ways of unlocking money that could be ring fenced for improving the historic environment. Sharing the idea with community groups led me directly to the idea that ‘Community Improvement Districts’ could be a solution to give communities a more meaningful voice in shaping their high street.

Yet, as much as I like to be the fount of wisdom on all great things, I have discovered that this is not a new idea.  Engaging London’s Communities: the Big Society and Localism put forward the idea in 2011 suggested ‘Community Improvement Districts’  as a possible way ahead when the idea of Big Society was in our lexicon. My own research has unearthed Community Improvement Districts in the US (29 in Georgia!), but they seem to be more common to BIDs, just with a slightly different name. 

The MHCLG Select Committee was attracted by the idea that BIDs should be replaced with Community Improvement Districts (2019).

The National Lottery funded organisation, Power to Change is  also looking at CIDs as part of their own 10 year vision to see community business recognised as a new economic model.  

Momentum is building in England, but Scotland is ahead

CIDs in Scotland

In the placemaking agenda, Scotland is one-step ahead of the rest of the UK on many fronts and it seems to be the same with CIDs! @JoeJamesBarratt recently highlighted to me on twitter that Improvement Districts operate in Scotland and could be a model for England to follow.  But it was thanks to Simon Quinn, IPM, who messaged me to share a story about a ‘Pilot Community Improvement District’ in Scotland.  See the story here.

This isn’t a CID yet, but well done Scotland for leading the way and bringing an idea to life. I am a firm believer that we should share ideas and information and not to reinvent the wheel. It also gives me an excuse to visit Scotland when the lockdown is over!

We know that High Streets have been suffering across the UK as peoples’ shopping and leisure habits change. The impact is now being accelerated due to Covid. So, when things change, the way we do things should change to. The governance of our high streets needs to change.

I can see Community Improvement Districts working alongside traditional BIDs, but focused on smaller high streets and smaller towns, where, a BID alone may not be financially viable. For example where a critical mass of businesses don’t exist, but that they need to work together for the greater good.

The CID model can break down the barriers between corporates, citizens and councils, and can everyone to better understand the challenges and the importance of collective action. Every action will count when added together!

So, what might it look like:

  • A Community Improvement District (CID) would be a defined area of business and residential properties, whose owners choose to pay an additional precept (think how town and parish councils and BIDs are funded – a bit of both!)
  • Perhaps business rates for the area are ring-fenced for that particular locality – not to the local authority, but to the local organising body.
  • The governance would be centred on the power of “community”.  By bringing together corporates, community groups, citizens and councils in a collaborative partnership, to give everyone a meaningful voice.
  • The additional revenue is then decided upon by the local people and dedicated to services and improvements within the high street’s boundaries.
  • It would be time limited like a Business Improvement District or Neighbourhood Forum. It might end after five years. It would not be in perpetuity. Get the job done. Move on.
  • It may well be a charitable trust but it would not be a private company.

Covid-19 is changing everything

Civic societies are in clear agreement as to which areas of themes and issues they want Civic Voice campaigning on after the crisis. We have three clear areas of work that civic societies think we should prioritise:

  • Bringing new life to town and city centres
  • Giving local communities more influence in planning and placemaking decisions
  • Protecting and enhancing Conservation Areas

Combine the three and you might say, that Civic Voice should be campaigning to give local communities more influence in historic high streets through CIDs. See our HAZ events here.

As Covid-19 has shown us, we are all connected. We need the local family running an independent cafe, or a library with hours the allow children to attend after school, or a local park to be open and safe. Our problems cannot be solved in isolation. But the future leadership in our towns will be trusted, transparent, place-focused networks, with the community at the heart. Its ‘garlic bread… its the future.’

Informal networks on high streets

Let me be clear: BIDs will continue to have an essential role in reviving our town centres, but a BID is just one mechanism that might help us redefine our High Streets more effectively. We have to bring the community to the heart of our high streets. It is critical that we collaborate together to show how much we value where we live.

Next steps

If someone wanted to proceed with a Community Improvement District, then I would suggest you register for Civic Voice’s #inconversation event on June 23rd. Phil Prentice from Scotland’s Town Partnership will be sharing perspectives as to how the  Possilpark traders are pulling together to pilot a Community Improvement District. 

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Civic Voice is a part of the Government’s High Streets Task Force. The High Streets Task Force has been set-up to strengthen local leadership in high streets and town centres in England. It will do this by providing information, advice, training, knowledge and data – helping people to make a positive difference to their local communities.

We encourage civic societies and community groups to register to receive task force updates from https://highstreetstaskforce.org.uk/

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