The Bartlett School of Planning


Paul Clement

The evolution of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in the context of English urban governance

Research subject

Primary supervisor: Professor Claudio de Magalhães
Secondary supervisor: Dr Jessica Ferm
Starting date: 2023
Projected completion date: 2027

Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) first emerged in Canada in the 1970’s, a response to severe downtown degradation primarily due to a combination of suburbanisation, decentralisation, and fiscal restraint. Whilst the concept spread rapidly to American cities and elsewhere in the world, it was not until 2005 that it featured in the UK.

Consequently, most of the literature relates to the North American model, with BIDs emerging as a different kind of actor within networked urban governance; an example of how the roles of the private and the public sectors are reorganising to more polycentric accommodations. The jury is out - some theorists decide that BIDs are essential and entrepreneurial place managers; others criticise them as an undemocratic and unaccountable threat to governance norms.

Initially part of New Labour’s ‘urban renaissance’ programme, the original intention for BIDs here was to fund better security, cleaning, and marketing in city areas through a levy on businesses. Whilst the period surrounding their first adoption and early embedding stages is documented, relatively little research has been conducted into the maturing UK BID model since. Now nearing 20-years in existence here and with now more than 300 BIDs in total, this project will look at how they are evolving.

Working from the hypothesis that English city BIDs are becoming significant players and are now influencing broader urban policy outcomes, the proposed research will take a case study approach using retrospective documentary reviews, semi-structured interviews, centrality scoring to assess the ‘voice’ and influence of each BID, and observation of the BID teams in operation. The proposed research questions will cover the extent to which the governance of cities is now influenced by BIDs; the factors that affect their introduction to some city areas whilst excluding others; and whether their characteristics, outputs and priorities are changing.

A final focus group stage will begin to co-create recommendations for policy makers as to how BIDs might be developed and utilised to confront broader city centre and high street challenges in the future.


I am a part-time student, researching a subject (BIDs) which has been my career for the past 20-years. As CEO of my own company, CMS, then as Head of Place-shaping for Savills and, more recently as CEO of Locus, BIDs have been important mechanisms for revitalising the places in which my team and I have worked.

My research allows me to learn more about their migration to the UK and, particularly, how the model in this country may be evolving into a significant player in local, regional, national, and international governance arrangements.

My PhD plans relate not to career aspirations but to a personal drive to better understand and interpret the industry that I have worked in latterly.

Alongside my research, I am a father of 4 and, as a family, we enjoy living between the UK, France (where we have a family home and one of our daughters lives), and the USA (to where another of our daughters moved). Between studies, we fit in the occasional game of golf and I work as CEO of Locus on a part-time basis.