“If we don’t do something, we will lose what we already have" - As plans to establish a Ripon BID (Business Improvement District) continue to move forward, one of the project’s main coordinators said action must be taken to preserve the city’s existing offer for visitors and residents.
As a member of Ripon’s Chamber of Trade and Commerce - the organisers of Ripon BID, Mark Lancaster is helping to steer the plans, and told the ‘Gazette this week that setting up the BID is about “fixing the roof while the sun is still shining” for the city’s business community.
Mark has set out what he sees as the main benefits of the project, where business rate payers are charged a levy in addition to their business rates bill in a defined area.
The revenue would then used to drive forward ambitious projects to benefit businesses, decided by businesses, which must be additional improvements that local authorities do not already provide on a statutory basis.
A BID would be launched if the majority of businesses, both in number and their rateable value, voted it in at a ballot.
This month the Chamber of Trade will be looking at defining the area for a Ripon BID, and will be doing more face to face consultation with businesses. If everything is in place, the aim would be for the BID to go to ballot in either early June or mid-September.
The initial ideas and suggestions for the defined BID area include the Market Square, Westgate, North Street, Allhallowgate, the future M&S site at Rotary Way, and down towards Borrage Bridge.
At a time when Ripon Together is also looking to deliver projects for the benefit of the city (see pages 6 and 7), Mark said it is an exciting time to be preparing a BID.
Mark said: “I’ve never known a time where so many people want to see something happen and are willing to get involved to make it happen.
“This project has been bubbling up and down for a couple of years now, and I think it’s only recently that people have actually seen the value in the way BIDs are actually delivered, understanding that it really does empower businesses.
“The Chamber over the last 12 months has been taking a long hard look at the way it works and what its position is in the city. And I think as organisations like Ripon Together have formed with a little bit more clarity in the way that they want to operate, it’s probably allowed the Chamber an opportunity to sit back and think about what are we going to deliver on behalf of our business community.”
Mark said: “Fundamentally Ripon doesn’t lack anything, it has a bit of everything - but not enough.”
He said: “The real reason for ensuring a BID has a purpose and works for Ripon is purely and simply that lots of other towns and cities are doing exactly the same thing, so if nothing else, we need to be able to compete toe to toe.
“We need to enhance and develop what we’ve got and make the very best of what we have. Ripon still has the quality and diversity between independent shops and high street chains, so I don’t think it has that issue that other towns face.
“But having said that, if space becomes available, and it’s unmanaged or unchecked, then all of a sudden you have that effect where a dozen of the wrong businesses open because each one of those businesses will have done their research, but they won’t know that there’s another six also opening at the same time - so all of a sudden you get six restaurants or six coffee shops - you dilute the market instantly.
“Nationally, independent retailers are struggling. It is hard, it’s tough out there - but the ones who are succeeding are the ones who’ve actually done something about it. There is nowhere to hide now.”
Making Ripon the best visitor destination it can be, and developing ‘brand Ripon’ could be key elements of a Ripon BID.
Mark said: “If you look at somewhere like Malton, maybe 10 years ago it suffered severe problems with empty shops - its diversity in the range of shops that were available was very low, but it decided to plant its flag in the sand and say we want to be a food town, and you can see the growth and development there.
“People now use it as a destination, and destination is a word that gives people a sense of why they should be doing something, so destination is key.”
Some of the general themes for projects to potentially fall under a Ripon BID include specialised markets, improving signage, having festivals or shows, and introducing vouchers to encourage people to shop local.
One of the ideas that excites Mark the most is making the visitor welcome one of the city’s most defining and memorable attractions, and looking at providing training for shopkeepers.
He said: “I’ve been to places not much bigger than this across Europe, especially in Germany where they make a massive fuss of people coming to the town.
“Our welcome is not bad, we just need to make sure that it’s better than everyone else’s. That would set us apart, yes we’ve got shops, we’ve got a lovely Cathedral, and we’ve got some nice architecture, but it’s the welcome - and I think that welcome is going to be key - whether you’re going to the races, coming here for a wedding, or just picking the odd bit up from a shop.
“The welcome is the thing that people take away with them, and encourages them to come back.It’s about having a good honest Yorkshire welcome.”
Mark also said a Ripon BID could be an opportunity to focus more on marketing Ripon nationally and internationally. He said: “Ripon’s digital footprint needs to be there, and needs to be
“Digital training is essential, it doesn’t matter if you’re a 100-year-old business or you’re just starting tomorrow, these are key ways to get people to understand who you are, what you do, and why you’re doing it.
“If you have happy customers who are engaged online, happy customers will more than likely walk through your door. There is a way of making ‘brand Ripon’, and I think that’s key to any communication - on every bit of stationery, every business card, every shop door, the brand Ripon logo needs to be shown.
“The brand itself is the people of Ripon - they are and will be the success or failure of any project, whether it’s Ripon Together or a BID, that will be the defining factor.”
An external consultancy firm will not be employed to help deliver the BID. Mark said: “It must be for the business community, by the business community.”
Do you support plans for a Ripon BID? Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01423 707505.