By News Reporters
At a packed out meeting at the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Centre last night (Tuesday 25 September) residents and small business owners agreed that their views should be properly represented on the board of the new Fitzrovia business improvement district (BID). The public meeting was attended by people from all over the neighbourhood who wanted to know what the business improvement district was and why there had been no public consultation.
The meeting was first briefed on how the BID came into being and about Derwent London who created The Fitzrovia Partnership and whose property lies within the business improvement district. The Saatchi block redevelopment which Derwent have approval for by the mayor of London lies at the centre of the BID area and would be completed by the time the BID reaches its maturity.
While The Fitzrovia Partnership had consulted 229 large businesses about the BID proposal they did not consult residents and small business owners. A brochure explaining the BID was circulated only to large businesses in 2011 without any information being given to anyone else.
Many people had praised Griff Rhys Jones for writing an article in the Evening Standard criticising the BID and the lack of consultation. The meeting felt that his views reflected what most people felt: residents and small businesses had been ignored by both The Fitzrovia Partnership and Camden Council.
Residents and small businesses had not seen the BID prospectus and were unclear about the BID’s role and objectives and wanted to know how the £1m precept will be spent.
One art gallery director told the meeting that she had never heard of The Fitzrovia Partnership or its business improvement district proposals until she read about it in Fitzrovia News. “I’ve been working here for 18 months and the first time I had heard of it was just before this meeting,” she said.
While many people questioned why Camden Council had not provided information about the BID or insisted on consultation others felt that it is now in existence and that there is a need to get involved and shape the agenda of the BID.
The only way to prevent the interests of residents and small businesses being ignored was to “be on the inside rather on the sidelines watching”. The view held was: “we cannot fight this change, but we must be part of it”. Most people were concerned with the rising rents and people and small businesses being driven out.
Max Neufeld of the Charlotte Street Association said that residents and small businesses need to be properly represented on the board of the BID. “We must have full voting rights and we should have two representatives for residents and two representatives for small businesses. It is not good enough just to be observers,” he argued.
Linus Rees of the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association questioned whether the businesses who voted for the BID would be agreeable to the inclusion of residents and small businesses. “Are they going to agree to this after they have just voted to approve the BID as outlined in The Fitzrovia Partnership’s proposals?”
One resident said she had spoken to BID participants Derwent London and Arup at length at a private event and felt they were open to input from residents. But others felt that Arup who are involved in the grand plans for expanding Euston Station for HS2 would not be concerned with keeping the special character of Fitzrovia.
Tony Travers, a local resident, suggested that the BID was only one of a number of changes facing the neighbourhood. “Compared to the changes that will be brought about by Crossrail, the BID is insignificant,” he said.
Others suggested that the BID could improve some things for everybody in the neighbourhood. There may well be common objectives to which all can subscribe but were unsure what the BID response would be.
The meeting was told that community representatives had met with Camden’s officers and councillors and sought to get agreement from The Fitzrovia Partnership to change its governance structure to include voting rights for residents and small businesses. Camden had pressed the BID company to amend their aims and objectives to reflect the needs of Fitzrovia and to change the composition of the board to include representatives of small businesses and residents. However, disappointingly, the outcome is still not known.
“Engagement” was a word that was used again and again at the meeting to expressed the view that residents and small businesses need to be included in decisions about the neighbourhood. Those urging engagement agreed the need to find out in detail what the BID actually intend to do. Some also argued that the community needed to agree on what its priorities are.
Local businessman Aristos felt that small businesses had little power in the neighbourhood. While there were residents groups and powerful large companies, small businesses did not have a forum to give their views.
The meeting resolved to press ahead with getting representation of both residents and small businesses on The Fitzrovia Partnership and ensure they have a real say in the future of Fitzrovia. It was agreed that a small group of residents and small businesses would seek to arrange a meeting with The Fitzrovia Partnership to discuss how far their interests might be fully represented in the longer term.
None of the local councillors were at the meeting.