Reading UK aims to extend its role by providing a range of extra services to town-centre businesses in the Abbey Quarter area. Reading UK executive director Nigel Horton-Baker outlined his organisation’s remit and the town’s growing opportunities and challenges
Reading UK is asking businesses in the Abbey Quarter area for their input on proposals to create a commercial Business Improvement District (BID) located alongside the town centre’s well-established retail BID.
Businesses in a BID pay a levy on their business rates to fund a range of extra services. For the existing retail BID, they include marketing and promotional activity, along with everything from organising arts festivals, street food markets and Christmas lights, to security, public safety and recycling. The consultation with Abbey Quarter businesses will include discussion of proposals such as public realm improvements, extra security and place marketing but Reading UK are keen to hear what businesses want from a potential new commercial district.
Organisations in the Abbey Quarter BID will vote on a proposal early in 2019. Reading UK hopes to launch the Abbey Quarter BID, along with a renewed retail BID, on April 1 2019. Both BIDs would last five years.
Among those backing the Abbey Quarter BID are House of Fisher, which provides serviced apartments in Reading, PwC and law firm Boyes Turner. The Abbey Quarter is home to major employers, including Prudential, SSE and Deloitte.
The town centre has been transformed over the past 10 years for the benefit of businesses, said Nigel Horton-Baker, executive director of Reading UK: “We have Thames Tower and the new railway station, as well as the Station Hill and Forbury office developments. A lot of new retailers and businesses have moved in, plus there is more residential property in the town centre. People want to live and work in a safe, clean and vibrant environment.”
Along with the University of Reading and planning consultants Barton Willmore, Reading UK last year published the Reading 2050 Vision. This aspirational plan, also supported by Reading Borough Council, summarises Reading’s aim to be a green technology city, a city of culture and diversity, and a city of rivers and parks.
“Reading has had 15 to 20 years of exceptional growth and development. We continue to maintain our share of inward investment from global companies, but recognise that the town’s future lies in being a smart-tech, sustainable and ethical location for businesses. The Vision will help shape Reading’s development in years to come,” said Horton-Baker.
An important service Reading UK provides is business development and recruitment support to employers. It helped Tesco recruit 1,000 local people to work at its Green Park distribution centre and had a hand in encouraging Bayer to relocate to the town. It works with developers such as Landid, M&G and McKay Securities to create new office spaces and has launched a new Relocation Guide to help employers already here retain and recruit staff as well as encouraging new occupiers to move their staff here.
While Reading’s future looks bright, success brings employment and congestion challenges. “This is an exciting time with high-level jobs moving here, but we also have to connect with local people who aren’t benefiting from this prosperity, so they don’t become disenfranchised,” said Horton-Baker.
Reading UK is supporting disadvantaged people by providing work and job interview skills training, including for the over 50s, in conjunction with local colleges and the Department for Work and Pensions.
It has also run a PopUp Business School initiative that offered practical ways to get a business off the ground. “Over 300 people attended and around 175 are now running their own businesses,” said Horton-Baker.
Reading UK lobbies for innovative transport developments to unlock barriers to business growth and supports the new mass rapid transport schemes from the town centre south to Green Park and east across the river Thames. It also backs the third river crossing of the Thames and the Heathrow Airport expansion.
Reading UK was set up in 2007 as a Community Interest Company bringing together the public and private sector to drive growth of the Reading economy. Its current £1 million turnover comes almost exclusively from the private sector via the BID levy, business contributions and project grants. It would raise another £500,000 to invest in the Abbey Quarter, if the new BID goes ahead.
Some 750 to 800 business would be covered by the two BIDs and Horton-Baker believes Reading UK delivers them good value for money. “For smaller retailers in particular, the cost of the levy is probably covered just by our free cardboard recycling collection compared with using a private contractor and we are excited by the potential to provide new services to support the office sector in an Abbey Quarter BID” he said.
Reading Economic Forum
Reading UK’s annual business briefing and networking event – the Reading Economic Forum – takes place on Thursday, November 1 at Reading Town Hall. It will discuss Reading’s economic success and future plans.
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