Bloomsbury Squared and Rooted

A Bloomsbury wide Trust to manage the network of historic squares and green spaces that so characterises our area is in the planning – after local businesses refused to support a proposal to pay a special levy for the upkeep of local greenspace.

The new plans have spun out of Re-thinking Parks, a three year research project  undetaken by think tank NESTA, with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, in response to anticipated heavy cut backs in local authority funding for parks.

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The research concluded that public parks need to diversify their funding sources to fill the gap created by local authority cuts, find new partners, and look for ways of making cost savings that won’t be at the expense of people’s enjoyment. The ideas from the 11 case studies – spread across the UK – included mobilising the skills and energy of business, using less intensive planting techniques and tapping into the public’s willingness to give both time and money.

The Bloomsbury case study was about setting up a parks-focused Business Improvement District (BID) as a way of raising extra funds. In a BID, local businesses pay a levy for a fixed period of five years, which is then used for local improvements. BIDs are already well known, but none are specifically focused on parks. The proposed Bloomsbury Squared BID was based on a 1.5% business levy on properties with a rateable value of over £60,000, and could have raised over £4m over 5 years.
But when over 300 local firms were surveyed, there was very little appetite for the idea – partly because of the overlap with the existing ‘Midtown’ BID that covers Bloomsbury, Holborn and St Giles. The idea has now been abandoned – but has led to the organisations involved setting up a working party to llok into the Trust idea. So far the Trust includes reps from LB Camden, the University and community groups – including the Marchmont Association. Businesses have expressed support for specific activities, such as one-off donations and employee volunteering.
Perhaps that was always the most likely outcome – though the problem of finding substantial new income  still remains. With the fortunes of so many local businesses linked to the quality of the local environment, Marchmont Voice wonders whether their reaction was not a tad short-sighted.
Next steps include a forthcoming study day on 7th May, organised by Bloomsbury Squares and Gardens, to trace the history of the squares and look to the future.
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