Kevin Buckle: Help for the Old Town’s BID is essential

Edinburgh Old Town BID area covers more than 900 businesses
Edinburgh Old Town BID area covers more than 900 businesses
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Great news for Essential Edinburgh and their CEO Roddy Smith with a resounding 91 per cent of businesses voting to continue the city centre Business Improvement District or BID for another five years. BIDs in Scotland have had mixed fortunes but when they work well, they work very well indeed.

However there was recently less promising news over the establishment of an Old Town BID with the announcement its ballot would be postponed from June 2018 to next year. In theory the Old Town has everything going for it with many of the major attractions and hundreds of small independent businesses, but its strength is also its weakness with the independents unconvinced anything will be done to help them and the large concerns doing fine anyway thank you!

The Old Town BID replaces the much smaller Greater Grassmarket BID which I did vote for when Avalanche was in the Grassmarket, but it proved to be a disaster overseeing a relentless drop in footfall – not helped by Edinburgh council withdrawing all its promised support and the local councillors relentlessly supporting residents against any attempt to attract visitors.

Therein lies another problem with the Old Town in that it has a small but effective army of activists that to be fair do a lot of good but too often oppose things that would benefit the area as a whole but are not to their liking. What seems to have got lost in the ongoing residents versus tourists debate is that there is a third interest group here who are not only local but often pay substantial monies to the council in rent and rates and that is the local businesses.

READ MORE: Kevin Buckle: Edinburgh council has abandoned the Grassmarket

This was really brought home to me when I saw the number of businesses that were in the area covered by the Old Town BID was more than 900. That is a lot of people whose livelihood is dependent on the area and they have as much right as any other group to be supported.

By coincidence I had recently read that in Liverpool, which has two BIDs, the council had insisted on something called the Liverpool BID Company that oversaw both. This seemed to make a lot of sense to me as backroom staff can be shared while, when they choose to do so, the BIDs can still act independently. In Edinburgh it would also lead to closer ties between the BIDs which could only help as at the moment Essential Edinburgh is so good at what it does it leaves other areas in its wake. I happened to mention it to the project manager for the Old Town BID and he thought it a great idea. The idea was then put in front of Roddy Smith of Essential Edinburgh who was keen to hear more leading to a meeting a couple of weeks ago. Roddy showed a great understanding of the issues faced and made it clear it was imperative that the Old Town BID was successful at ballot.

Avalanche hopes to return to the Old Town as part of the ScotPop Music Exhibition Centre so I admit I do have an interest and having traded for decades in the area I know it well. With Essential Edinburgh as the established BID, their help with the Old Town BID would be invaluable and also reassure the larger organisations that experience, advice and expertise were to hand.

READ MORE: Kevin Buckle: The missed opportunities Edinburgh will regret

I haven’t forgotten about the current West End BID which is less than a third of the size of Essential Edinburgh and very much overshadowed by its larger neighbour which will also be joined by 100 St James Centre businesses around the time the West End BID would look to be renewed. It would therefore seem to make sense to actually incorporate the West End into the Essential Edinburgh BID creating what would then be two “superBIDs” should the Old Town BID be successful.

One thing is for sure and that is if Essential Edinburgh expertise is made available to the Old Town, it needs to be matched with funding from Edinburgh council. The original BID was massively under-funded and under-resourced given the importance of success and the size of the area but one consolation from the delay is that there is still time to make sure a funded and professional case is put forward.

The current Old Town project manager’s contract ended last month in expectation of there being a ballot so the steering committee made up of Old Town businesses and members of the council now has the opportunity to decide how they move forward. Chaired by James McGregor of The Royal McGregor on the High Street, the committee now has the chance to show how much the Old Town has to offer. Any involvement from such a successful BID as Essential Edinburgh would be a real game-changer and would mean that by 2020 Edinburgh could see two large BIDs supporting almost 2000 businesses working together to offer a vibrant and pleasant experience to locals, visitors and businesses alike.

Pothole peril for vintage cars

The West End is expecting a visit from some vintage celebrities next Saturday – and I don’t mean the Rolling Stones who are playing later that day. William Street will be host to more than 25 vintage cars, ranging from a 1953 R-Type Bentley to a 1981 DMC-12 DeLorean.

Amusingly when I saw news of this in the paper last week there were several comments which I assumed would be from car enthusiasts.

No idea what made me click to read the comments but it turned out every single comment was warning that with such valuable cars they should avoid all the potholes!