In the latest episode of PropCast, Steven Medway, retail veteran and chief executive of the Knightsbridge  and King’s Road  Partnerships – two Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in the capital – discusses the importance of businesses working together to build a prosperous future for high streets in London and beyond.

You can listen to this podcast via Apple Podcastsor Spotifyor SoundCloudor listen to it through the player below:

Steven Medway knows his stuff when it comes to London retail. After spending ten years in a major high street retailer, he was hired as managing director of the trading environment at The New West End Company (NWEC), a BID that oversaw the West End during its pre-Covid glory days.

Medway describes a BID as a “marketing and management company that operates and looks after a district”. Put simply: “It’s a way of bringing together a destination with mixed ownership under one vision and one plan.”

His experience at NWEC brought home the importance of businesses working together in order to improve the standing and prosperity of a particular area. For example, Medway developed the first ever business-led air quality strategy.

“Taking Bond Street for example, one of the first initiatives we launched through the air quality strategy was to reduce the amount of waste vehicles,” he explains. “There were 50-odd waste businesses operating on the street beforehand. We reduced this down to four.”

BIDs also allow for inventive uses of public space that a single business would find impossible. During his time at NWEC, Medway instituted a temporary ‘smart street’ next to Selfridges. “We wanted to push the boundaries of what we could do with a small street,” he says. “We set up some pop-up retail before this was as established as it is today, and we worked with a company to use the kinetic energy of pedestrians to power the lights.”

After a stint at Cadogan where he led on the pedestrianisation of Pavilion Road and the introduction of Chelsea’s alfresco dining offering during the Pandemic, Medway has brought his wealth of experience to his leadership of the King’s Road and Knightsbridge Partnerships, two BIDs overseeing historic retail districts in west London.

In doing so, he works with TfL, the Mayor, police, local authorities and indeed central government to deliver for the BID’s members and the area more broadly. The decision to set up the BID among the areas’ more than 600 members was overwhelmingly popular, gaining 90 percent and 87 percent in Knightsbridge and the King’s Road respectively.

As Medway sees it, the areas have certain advantages over the West End. “Footfall in Chelsea in particular has recovered to 2019 levels,” he remarks. “The rest of the West End is down 20 percent.”

There are several reasons for this. The West End relies more on commuter traffic, which is still dampened by hybrid working patterns, and Chelsea has a more established residential community that enjoys shopping locally.

A policy that would benefit the King’s Road and Knightsbridge hugely is tax-free shopping. Since the time of recording, a reversal of the announcement to bring back tax-free shopping has been confirmed. “The moment the government took the awful decision to take away tax-free shopping,” Medway explains, “it made the likes of Milan and Paris more attractive to international shoppers. In Knightsbridge tax-free shopping could be worth up to £500 million a year in extra sales alone.”

It means the 450 million Europeans who would have been eligible for VAT-relief post-Brexit will now likely go elsewhere to shop. This is a real hammer blow to Knightsbridge in particular, one of two International Centres in London – the other being the West End. Nevertheless, the Knightsbridge and King’s Road Partnerships will continue to lobby for the reinstatement of tax-free shopping in a bid to bring tourism back to 2019 levels.

Yet with Christmas around the corner – the King’s Road officially switched on its lights on the 19th November – Medway has high hopes for Chelsea. “Christmas is the most important time of year for our members and businesses,” he says. “We need to make it the most exciting destination to come and visit – Chelsea does it better than anywhere else.”

Looking ahead to 2023, Medway is decidedly optimistic about the area’s fortunes. “You’ll start to hear more about Knightsbridge and Chelsea,” he asserts. “We’re putting Knightsbridge back on the map, and you will see the King’s Road continue to go from strength-to-strength.”

You can listen to this podcast via Apple Podcastsor Spotifyor SoundCloudor listen to it through the player above.