Harrogate's independent shops and bars are demanding a voice in the town's future as BID gears up to introduce its first policies to improve the town centre.
Some of the town’s leading independent shops facing paying a new Business Improvement District levy to create a £3 million funding stream to invest in Harrogate over the next five years have been talking to the Harrogate Advertiser about the sort of measures they would like to see.
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Chief among their concerns they’d like to see tackled by Harrogate’s new Business Improvement District board are two issues: lack of free parking in the town centre and the high cost of rent and rates.
Some have also expressed fears about the nature of BID itself, who runs it and what its policies will actually be.
What Harrogate BID says
But Harrogate BID chair John Fox said a tremendous amount of work had already taken place behind the scenes in the last three months and BID’s new board was close to announcing exciting new ideas involving independent businesses in the town centre.
Mr Fox said: “We’ve been working flat out on things like finding offices, recruiting staff, setting up a new board, creating partnerships and getting the bills out to levy payers.
“We’re also close to announcing a new BID manager.
“Once that is sorted we have some exciting projects in the pipeline.”
What Harrogate's independent businesses say
Small traders in the town centre have told the Harrogate Advertiser they are concerned, in particular, about high rents and rates in Harrogate town centre.
Independent businesswoman Georgina Collins, the director of Bijouled, which has just been nominated as a finalist for the best gift retailer of jewellery and fashion accessories in the UK, said: “Rent and rates are high in Harrogate and it is difficult for independents to start business here without significant backing.
“Although now there is some relief for rates nationally, our rates have nearly doubled in 11 years. They are approximately 45 times higher than in our previous shop in West Yorkshire!”
Based on Parliament Street, the shop owner feels if footfall is to be improved in the town centre, more needs to be done about parking and promoting the strength of independents.
She said: “The biggest challenge for us is footfall, both locally and from visitors. Parking charges and Sunday parking charges impact on our trade and should be revisited.”
“We would also like to see a co-ordinated effort from organisations such as Visit Harrogate to publish details of Harrogate’s independent sector online and and promote its importance as an attraction to the town. As such, its website needs do this for free.”
Sophie Likes' views
Sophie Hartley, who recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of her gift shop Sophie Likes on Station Parade, echoed those views.
She said: “I am not sure what power BID would have to reduce our rates but any help would be massively appreciated.
“The rates are far too high and definitely need reducing in order for the high street to recover and flourish again.
“There should be more places where you can park for free for a few hours with a disc so that people are encouraged to pop in to town.
“We would also like to see investment in marketing and promoting Harrogate’s town centre.
“Some sort of indie guide or street map that can be picked up in shops that features independent shops and cafes would be great.”
What Harrogate BID says
Despite the work it has taken to create a team to deliver actual policies, John Fox said Harrogate BID was already working to make a real difference to improve the environment for town centre businesses.
Mr Fox said: “We’re setting up a meeting with North Yorkshire County Council about parking and inviting all the independents along.
“We’ve already been talking to small traders. The independents are involved.”
Georgie Eadington, store manager at the classic country clothing brand Cordings, which is based at Westminster Arcade and part owned by rock legend Eric Clapton, said that parking was crucial, as was offering something unique.
She said: "We feel it’s so important to have local independent businesses in the town centre.
"Although not wishing to knock high street chain stores it’s so important to have a mix of businesses to keep things interesting for local customers and visitors alike.
"Stores of interest will mean that people are happy to travel some distance to shop.
"It would be great if we still had free parking on Sundays as the majority of us now retail over seven days.
Another useful idea I have seen implemented in Leeds is free parking for the four Saturdays/weekends leading up to Christmas. Bound to be a winner.
"We have joined in with the Ashville College loyalty scheme so hoping for some good results from that."
Simon Midgley, the director of award-winning Starling Independent Beer & Coffee House on Oxford Street, said his deal priorities for BID involved boosting footfall of customers in Harrogate town centre.
He said: "We need to promote footfall and dwell time in town centre with a focus on Indies as they are what makes Harrogate different and adds value for local people and visitors alike.
"We also need to ensure local business are consulted/involved in large events moving forward and build further events.
"All too often local business involvement in events such TdY or the upcoming UCI is over looked in favour of creating temporary Fanzones which pulls business away from permanent town centre businesses.
"I would love to host something at Starling but just can’t seem to get my message through.
"Perhaps fund a free carparking initiative every Sunday evening for example to incentivse trips into town similar to the free bus initiative operating at present?"
Woods of Harrogate's views
William E. Woods of Woods of Harrogate, which first opened its doors in town in 1895, said he was disappointed by the lack of information on BID's progress and its board's lack of members from the small independent sector.
He also said there were plenty of examples to draw on elsewhere in the UK of how independents play a key part in the prosperity of the town centre of the 21st century.
The luxury linens guru said: “I recently read of a highly-regarded expert in the retail sector say that for a high street to succeed in the current age it needs to do three things: be different, ensure there is good and easy access to the town centre and offer a good supply of free parking.”
Imagined Things views
Georgia Duffy, the owner of Imagined Things, a small Harrogate independent bookshop in Westminster Arcade with a strong national profile, also argues that something needs to be done on rents and rates.
But she also said that issues like tidiness and parking were important, too.
She said: “We need to improve the look and feel of the town centre and keep it a welcoming and attractive place for local people and visitors.
“The anti-social behaviour in the town centre needs to be looked at, as it can be very off-putting.
“The streets need to be cleaner, too.”
But the owner of Baltzersens, one of Harrogate’s most distinctive and popular cafes, said he thought rents and rates were a bit of a red herring.
Paul Rawlinson said: “I look forward to the rates reduction that comes into force this April from the Government but I honestly think that if indies are complaining about rent and rates then most are likely have deeper issues within their businesses.
“My restaurant Norse failed despite great reviews but it was nothing to do with rent or rates.
“In terms of Harrogate BID, it is so important to get the right person in place to manage the organisation.
“We need someone with creativity and new ideas about how to get things moving, who also has some financial nous.
“Independent businesses can be a strength for Harrogate and I would like to see a body that could be supported to represent and promote that sector.”