Town Centre: Harrogate's £3m plan for major changes

John Fox, chair of Harrogate BID.
John Fox, chair of Harrogate BID.

Is Harrogate about to become one of more than 300 towns and cities in the UK to turbo-charge its town centre by forming a BID? The Harrogate Advertiser’ looks at what a Business Improvement District is and what it could mean to Harrogate.

The launch of a vital new £3 million strategy for Harrogate town centre took place on Wednesday.

In what could be one of the most important economic developments in Harrogate for decades the team behind Harrogate BID set out its plans to make the town centre a better managed and better marketed town centre.

The launch of Harrogate BID’s carefully put together Business Plan at an iconic Harrogate business - Bettys - is the culmination of pressure that has been building over the last 18 months for action in what have turned into testing times for the high street across the UK.

That clamour has come from all sides - Harrogate Borough Council, Harrogate and District Chamber of Commerce, businesses great and small, and the public itself, who made their fears and desires plain in the Harrogate Advertiser’s recent Town Centre Survey.

The backers of Harrogate BID, who include many of the town’s major players, believe that, should local business vote in favour of forming a Harrogate Business Improvement District in a ballot to be held this November, that it will bring far-reaching changes of benefit to the town as a whole.

John Fox, chair of Harrogate BID, said it wasn’t just a matter of taking practical steps to help the business community, it was about giving it back control to have a stronger voice in the challenging world out there.

He said: “Harrogate cannot afford to stand still. It needs to refresh but achieving that will present challenges.

“Harrogate in many ways has weathered past storms and remained prosperous and a desirable place to do business, but it is increasingly clear that the challenges facing both the town centre as a whole and those for individual businesses, small and large, are mounting.

“Online and out of town competition, demands on accessibility, business taxation and a squeeze on spending and investment are dramatically changing the way town centres need to operate and promote themselves.

“Public agencies, investors, businesses and many partnerships have achieved much, but with the formalisation of this support throigh the creation of Harrogate BID we can achieve so much more.

“Individuals and organisations have the chance to play an active role in the transformation that needs to occur.

“Through Harrogate BID can embrace the opportunity for greater input, influence, control and self-determination.”

Over the past few months, businesses in Harrogate town centre have been telling the BID Team how they would like to see it improved.

Consultation with businesses in Harrogate town centre has fed directly into the Harrogate BID’s five-year Business Plan which was unveiled at a reception at Bettys tearooms on Wednesday..

The BID would run from 2019 to 2024 with key objectives addressing concerns over marketing, promotions and events, better access to the town centre and parking, making the town centre safer and cleaner and supporting the evening and night-time economy.

With an estimated total budget of more than £3 million, the new Harrogate BID could have the capability of putting its money were its mouth is.

The finances will come via an annual levy from local businesess located within the clearly defined Harorgate BID area determined by their ratable value.

The sums involved are likely to work out at £750 per year for businesses with a ratable value of £50,000 up to £3,000 per year for businesses with a ratable value of £200,000.

Any business below £20,000 will be formally exempt from paying the BID Levy, though they can still be a part of BID and benefit from it.

The crucial moment on the Harrogate BID journey will take place in November when all businesses in the Harrogate BID area will vote ‘for’ or ‘against’ it.

To pass, the BID side must won more than 50% of that vote and, in another strict test, the businesses that vote ‘yes’ must represent a greater total ratable value than those that vote ‘no’.

Support for a ‘yes’ vote is already building from well-known Harrogate business names.

James White, centre manager at Victoria Shopping Centre, said: “We are surrounded by very successful BIDs, so why shouldn’t Harrogate have one?”

Peter Jesper, managing director of Jespers, said: “I am supporting the BID process as I want to have my say to ensure the right issues are addressed to protect our lovely town.”

Ultimately, John Fox believes Harrogate BID is about turning pride in the town into action which ensures it remains one of the best places to live and do business in the UK.

He said: “Harrogate is a unique and vibrant destination.

“It must be nurtured to ensure that its assets, attractions and offer are not only some of the best locally but also on the national scene.”

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