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; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

    £400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

    Market Risk & Control Manager

    Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

    SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

    £320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

    Head of Audit

    To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam