Knaresborough firms get ready to vote on Business Improvement District plan
Voting on Knaresborough's proposed £700,000 Business Improvement District (BID) is about to get underway.
More than 300 businesses will be sent ballot papers from Friday and have until 8 October to have their say on whether they should pay an annual levy to the proposed body which would run projects to create a better promoted town centre.
A group of business leaders have been working on the plans since 2019 and will generate £700,000 in funding over the next five years if the ballot is a success.
They have already won the support of Harrogate Borough Council which has agreed to lend £27,000 for start-up costs and will contribute around the same amount in levy charges if the BID goes ahead.
However, there are mixed feelings amongst the business community, with some firms raising questions over how the BID is being created and how much of a difference it could actually make.
Tracey Bell, owner of Ruebury Flowers, and Annie Wilkinson-Gill, owner of The Crystal Buddha gift shop, both say they are undecided on how they will vote.
Mrs Bell said: "We are an incredibly strong community in this town. We do lots of events and everybody supports everybody, but the BID has upset a lot of people and fractured that feeling.
"Looking at the BID business plan, it feels like they haven't measured accurately what needs to be done, how they are going to do it and how much it is going to cost.
"The figures are so vague, there is not enough detail and when they are asking us to give our money to invest in their project, that is a worry.
"I really feel this could be a wasted opportunity."
Mrs Wilkinson-Gill added: "The BID would be a great idea if we could bring businesses together. I'm not against it, but I just don't see any thing like this in the plan.
"There has also been a real lack of transparency with regards to what the money is going to spent be on."
For the BID to succeed, a simple majority of those who vote, representing more than half the total rateable value of all properties within a defined town centre area, must be in favour.
The ballot will close on 8 October and the results will be announced the following day.
If the BID goes ahead, a limited company will be set up with 12 directors drawn from the business community to manage the funds.
Any levy paying business owner would be eligible to stand for a director position - and how much each business would pay in levy charges would depend on their rateable value.
A business plan was launched earlier this year and set out the BID's top priorities including campaigns to attract visitors, parking and public transport initiatives, and developing a 'brand' for Knaresborough.
Within the plan, Bill Taylor, chair of the Knaresborough BID task group, said: "Knaresborough faces the challenges of many similar towns such as a changing high street, competition for visitors from other high-profile neighbours, attracting investment and working together cohesively.
"The Covid pandemic will have further exacerbated these issues but it also presents a major opportunity to take advantage of the change in both shopping and visitor patterns and expectations.
"The town has seen a growth in new businesses, opening and gaining momentum coming out of the previous lockdowns and this energy needs to be harnessed."
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter