Simon Pitkeathley: The role of the high street
Camden Town Unlimited (CTU) is the Business Improvement District (BID) for the Camden Town area, representing more than 300 member businesses. From office buildings to bookshops, restaurants to corner shops, we have been appointed by – and are accountable to – the business community, to ensure the area thrives and its potential is realised.
CTU’s partner organisation, Euston Town (ET) BID was elected in 2016 by the companies operating in and around Euston Station with a mandate to drive regeneration and local economic growth. ET was proposed, and is currently run by, the team that leads CTU. The two BIDs work together with shared aims on the issues affecting business in their area.
Our key priority has always been to make our local area a better place to work, shop and visit, and our initiatives and campaigns focus on driving regeneration and economic growth, as well as creating opportunities for local businesses and their employees.
We are delighted to be given the opportunity to share how we have contributed to improving our local area and below we provide some specific examples of how we have done this. We understand that in a city like London, standing still is to miss opportunities; therefore we also outline our planned initiatives moving forward to build upon our transformative work for the area.
Improving our local area
We have become a strong voice in advancing macro policy decisions that shape the environment for local regeneration. In Camden, this has been seen in infrastructure and planning policy – areas which have delivered perhaps our proudest and most significant achievement: the protection from demolition of the unique and vibrant Camden Market.
Camden Market was placed at risk by the Government’s original proposal for the HS2 line which included an over ground connection to HS1 near King’s Cross. The plan would have seen a track constructed through the heart of Camden Town, requiring the demolition of part of the world famous Market and would have resulted in a thriving creative hub becoming a construction zone for a lengthy period of time. This would have reversed years of regeneration work in Camden, while inhibiting further development for the next decade.
CTU influenced the debate over the HS1-HS2 Link by presenting the economic, logistic and connectivity issues the policy was likely to cause, and proposed an alternative solution. Ultimately, the Government scrapped the proposal, citing the reasons highlighted by CTU.
This award-winning work demonstrates that in order to improve a location, you need to highlight and protect its most valuable assets.
Other notable achievements of CTU have resulted from proactive initiatives that have brought tangible gains to the local area and its people. Some specific examples include:
- The growth and promotion of ‘meanwhile space’. Camden has long been an area which welcomes and celebrates creative and resourceful thinking. This regeneration project – led by our partner charity Camden Collective – sought to ensure this was able to continue by addressing an issue the area, and London generally, faces with regard to providing affordable workspace. The flagship scheme has made use of vacant buildings and workspace – for example the vacant National Temperance Hospital in Euston – by renovating into ‘meanwhile use’ offices for entrepreneurs and creative industries. This initiative has boosted the reputation of the local area whilst supporting creative start-ups with free and subsidised desk space. With estimates suggesting that over half a million new jobs will be created in the Capital by 2040, the Camden Collective showcases a great example of how these can be accommodated in existing space.
- Helping to keep the community safe and secure. Cutting crime was a key concern for our members when we formed in 2006 and we have helped to deliver this outcome in a number of ways. The establishment of the collaborative Quiet Streets initiative between the BIDS, council, venues and the police helps make streets quieter and safer, while the Camden Business Against Crime (CBAC) project provides businesses with the necessary tools – including CCTV and police reports – to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour.
- Transforming the high street. Through the ‘Naked High Street’ project we developed a vision for a high street free of clutter where pedestrians are prioritised. Local funding methods have helped to turn a vehicle-centric road layout into wide pavements that can easily accommodate significant footfall ensuring better access to the numerous independent businesses and a more pleasant and safe street environment.
This all shows that as BIDs we have been able to effect a huge deal of change locally in terms of regenerating our high streets and shaping local debates on transport, infrastructure and crime. But we think we can do more, with our local partners and neighbours.
Much of our work involves looking ahead to the wider issues that have the potential to empower, support or negatively affect local businesses, the community and the local area.
Perhaps the most significant development is the redevelopment of Euston station to accommodate High Speed 2, as well as proposed plans for Crossrail 2 to also pass through the station. A once-in-a-generation opportunity, this could unlock new pockets of London, business growth and job creation.
Modernisation efforts should ensure Euston is more accessible both to pedestrians and to the wider rail network, it is also important that the station is re-designed in a way that encourages permeability and flows of footfall, allowing better interaction with the surrounding business communities. A vision for economic development, regeneration and growth in the area is at the heart of our campaign as we engage with the Master Development Partner for the redevelopment of the station.
Another exciting initiative we are leading on is the development of a ‘Highline’ for London. The Highline is publically backed by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan and will provide a picturesque thoroughfare to King’s Cross from Camden Town, deliver more green space and improve air quality. Like New York’s own High Line, this is being funded by a grassroots campaign using an innovative crowdsourcing model. We would encourage you to find out more about this groundbreaking initiative by becoming a ‘friend of the Highline’.
We have been a driving force for positive local change and regeneration, and we believe there is scope to do even more. Longer-term, we have the aspiration to merge the business clusters in Euston and Camden and King’s Cross, to form a ‘London Innovation District’.
Extending our boundaries to the King’s Cross area, and bringing all three jurisdictions into a single federation would maximise the potential of the area and we are exploring all options to facilitate this.
About the author:
Simon is the Chief Executive of Camden Town Unlimited and Euston Town. He is the Mayor of London’s ‘Champion for Small Business’, and is involved with the London LEP, the Cross River Partnership, Capital City College Group and Camden Giving.
Renaisi have worked with CTU in the past, evaluating their work in partnership with the GLA and Camden Council.