A Q+A with Ruth Duston, the Northbank BID’s CEO, on the Pedestrianisation Project
Who is The Northbank BID and what is your role within it?
The Northbank Business Improvement District (BID) is a business collective working to enhance the area and drive local economic growth. We were officially established in July 2013, after a ballot of the local business community. There are over 70 BIDs in central London and The Northbank is one of the largest covering an area stretching from Trafalgar Square to the Royal Courts of Justice. Funded and driven by local businesses, BIDs play an important role in the governance and stewardship of London, working in partnership with the public sector.
The BID works across five strategic themes (Public Realm & Environment, Community Safety and Business Resilience, Corporate Community and Engagement, Marketed & Promoted and Strategic Vision). A range of projects and programmes combine to enhance and make improvements to the area, and to showcase its assets to businesses, visitors, tourists and local residents alike, helping to make The Northbank a world class destination.
In my role as Chief Executive of the BID, I lead the Executive Team to deliver our business plan objectives, working closely with our Board members, wider stakeholders and our local authority, Westminster City Council.
How did the Strand Aldwych project come about and how did it progress to where it is today?
The Strand Aldwych project has been a long-term strategic priority for The Northbank BID. In December 2015, we commissioned Publica to develop a public realm vision for Aldwych, which would establish an overarching integrated framework for the transformation of this important part of the West End.
For a number of years we lobbied and promoted the benefits of the scheme, working with organisations such as London First and with colleagues at Westminster Council. Following a decision by Westminster City Council in December 2020, approval has been given to implement £18m of improvements works to the Strand/Aldwych gyratory. This Council funding is expected to pump prime further improvements to the area and draw in partner funding.
The BID remains a delivery partner, working alongside the BID and a project team to bring the scheme to fruition. Community input and participation has been at the heart of the design process for Strand Aldwych through review groups and workshops.
Alongside the project delivery, we launched a project to involve artists in the design development for Strand Aldwych. This stage in the design was another way for us to make sure the community was at the centre of the Strand-Aldwych Vision. The artists were asked to consider the location and its neighbours when bringing ideas to the table, as well as the academic pool of excellence for potential collaboration.
Public consultation began in 2019, with the draft design concepts being shared with residents, businesses, venues and community groups for their input. There was then a further consultation on traffic in 2020. We were absolutely delighted to see the public realm improvements finally begin in January of this year.
The scheme is making good progress and just this summer we have seen transport changes around Strand and Aldwych and ‘Meanwhile’ activity is planned for September in the newly created pedestrianised space. The final scheme will be delivered by 2022.
What is the Northbank’s aspiration for the Strand Aldwych project?
Our aspiration is for the improvement works to create a thriving cultural quarter, underpinned by opportunities for collaborating through strong links to neighbouring districts. We envisage that the changes will bring a wealth of benefits to the local area, including a more people-friendly experience for pedestrians and cyclists and enhanced connections to Covent Garden, the City, Holborn and the West End.
As we begin to look towards a post-pandemic era, it is vital that public and private sector bodies continue to come together to facilitate London’s recovery. This partnership between Westminster City Council and Northbank BID has not only created a holistic approach to placemaking, but it has demonstrated the meaningful changes for local communities that can take place through collaboration.
How does this project fit in with the broader vision behind the Northbank?
As a BID, we work in partnership with local stakeholders to address daily issues and longer term ambitions for the area.
Before the BID was established there was a wide spread feeling that the area was tired and not realising its potential. Through the BID a diverse community from academia, the corporate world, and the culture and hospitality sectors have united behind the shared goal of enhancing the area’s appeal in the face of constant change and competition. The Strand Aldwych project epitomises what is possible through collective action.
By strengthening our area’s identity, cleanliness and safety, the Northbank BID strives to continually improve the experience of people working, living and studying here, while attracting a higher number of business visitors and tourists.
What possibilities and benefits does the project open?
Our overall project objectives are to encourage exemplary collaboration within a cluster of world-class cultural and educational institutions, SMEs and students enabling high-end research, innovation and a public showcase.
We also want to nurture and promote skills, entrepreneurship and economic growth in the knowledge and creative sectors. The new plan for the area will reduce congestion and journey times, with anticipated positive impacts on health and associated economic benefits. Ultimately, we want to create an inspirational, safe and secure destination that offers a meeting place for workers, students, visitors and residents.
When we first proposed this project, we knew it would have huge public benefits. Today, following the impact of COVID-19, I would argue these benefits are even greater. As a city, it is vital that we provide new reasons for people to visit central London and use our public spaces in a much more effective and sustainable way. This project does just that and I can’t wait to see it brought to life.
What further aspirations and projects does the Northbank have?
Our Northbank Public Realm Study & Vision identified over 100 project areas to improve, from lighting schemes to the major highway transformation of Strand/Aldwych. Air quality and its impact on the area has also played a vital role in the vision for the future, with the Northbank successfully being named a Business Low Emission Neighbourhood.
The Strand/Aldwych project is just the first step in our wider plans to improve public spaces in this area of London, focusing on sustainability, wellbeing and creating vibrant and memorable experiences for visitors.
What bit of Strand history intrigues you?
For me, I find it fascinating that the area stretches all the way back to the Saxons. The street name ‘Aldwych’ comes from an ancient name for the area – ‘ald’ meaning old, and ‘wych’ meaning village or farm. It’s amazing that people were settled in this area as far back as the 6th century!