Finance: Will Godiva take off?

The management of Coventry city centre is being handed over to a private company in a project named after the place's most famous daughter. Other towns will be casting an eye on its success, says Paul Gosling

Coventry is preparing itself for a revolution in two months' time. The council is voluntarily handing over to a private company responsibility for running the city centre. If it is successful, the West Midlands' car capital could provide a model of civic management that is copied throughout the country.

The Coventry City Centre Management Company will, from April, take over from the council a pounds 4m budget to run the commercial heart of the city. It will award the contracts and monitor the performance of street cleaning, decide the level of closed-circuit television surveillance, manage the car parks and set parking fees, organise special events to attract shoppers and tourists, run campaigns to promote the city and attract inward investment, and be consulted on all planning applications in the city centre area.

But this is no straightforward privatisation of civic responsibilities. The company is a joint venture between the city's Labour-controlled council and some of its leading businesses, including Boots, the Prudential and Land Securities, which owns much of the property in the centre. Other directors include a vicar, representatives of the city's university and its training and enterprise council, and just one councillor and one officer from Coventry City Council.

Chairman of the company is Martin Ritchley, chief executive of the Coventry Building Society. Mr Ritchley says: "We are bringing together all the interest groups in an environment where you can make things happen. The private sector will be taking decisions and responsibilities for how the budgets will be spent, and this must be a good way forward. It will have influence over policies such as parking, safety and cleansing, instead of just being critical from the outside."

Coventry City Council expects the company to be more effective in attracting private capital into renovating the city's shopping area, which was mostly rebuilt in the Fifties and Sixties and is now badly showing its age. Commercial interests on the board have committed themselves to raising an extra pounds 500,000 over the next year for improvements to the existing city centre.

What the city desperately needs, though, is major investment to see off out-of-town developments such as the nearby Merry Hill centre at Dudley. The company has bid for pounds 2m from the European Union, but the key to progress is for the new company to lead a private finance initiative to rebuild the central shopping area.

Mr Ritchley believes that additional investment has to be earned by the new company. "In the longer term there may be extra money, but the most important priority is to prove to residents and businesses that this represents real progress to make the city better, and then to build investment. The companies represented on the board will be bringing in experience from elsewhere, and I hope they will be able to influence investment decisions from outside the city."

Some Coventry residents have criticised the proposal as an abandonment of the council's responsibilities, but Councillor Nick Nolan, chair of the authority's economic development committee, says it has not been controversial within the council. "There are sceptics, but getting it through the Labour group really wasn't difficult," he recalls.

Mr Nolan says it is important for commerce to commit itself to improving the city's environment. "We have been letting the private sector get out of its civic responsibilities for years, and it is about time we ended that. It is the growth of quangos that has made councils say that we can't allow these people to go off at tangents, but get them into what is important."

The Coventry project, called Godiva after the city's most famous daughter, builds on what has become a consensus among major cities that the private sector needs to be brought into planning and managing commercial centres. Many cities have now appointed town centre managers, who are responsible for liaison with store owners and for ensuring that councils work in co- operation with retailers to compete more effectively with out-of-town shopping areas.

Alan Tallentire, chief executive of the Association of Town Centre Management, says that he expects several other major local authorities to follow Coventry's example, with Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast all looking closely at how it operates. "It is based on business improvement districts in the United States," he says, pointing out that this has had a major positive impact in many downtown areas there.

"It is about pulling investment strategies together where the private sector can see a reward cycle from which they can increase profitability. For the public sector it can help to prioritise economic development programmes."

Coventry is, in effect, acting as a pilot scheme for the future management of city centres, but the timing has its ironies. Just as the Labour Party has its best chance of government for years, so its own councils are moving much closer to the style urged on them by Margaret Thatcher and her former environment secretary, the late Nicholas Ridley. The ideas of Baroness Thatcher and Lord Ridley clearly had their own momentum, just a rather slower one than they had hopedn

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Guru Careers: Account Manager / Membership Manager

    £35 - 38k + Benefits & Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Account Manager ...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

    Guru Careers: Associate Director

    £50 - 80k: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Associate Director for the Markets ...

    Guru Careers: Associate Director / Director of Sound Practices

    £60 - 100k: Guru Careers: Our client is looking for an Associate Director of S...

    Day In a Page

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

    Tate Sensorium

    New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
    Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
    Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

    Remember Ashton Agar?

    The No 11 that nearly toppled England
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks