Crucial chance to improve Harrogate town centre

Is Harrogate going to support what could be the biggest chance this century so far to improve its town centre and retail sector by voting '˜yes' to a Harrogate BID?

Friday, 2nd November 2018, 2:30 pm
Updated Friday, 2nd November 2018, 2:33 pm
Backing Harrogate BID - Chairman of Harrogate BIDJohn Fox with local business figures supporting the campaign: Mike Procter, Richard Wheeldon, David Ritson, Martin Gerrard, Brian Haines, Simon Kent, Sandra Doherty, James White and Peter Smith. (1810294AM1)
Backing Harrogate BID - Chairman of Harrogate BIDJohn Fox with local business figures supporting the campaign: Mike Procter, Richard Wheeldon, David Ritson, Martin Gerrard, Brian Haines, Simon Kent, Sandra Doherty, James White and Peter Smith. (1810294AM1)

The ballot of local businesses in Harrogate town centre about this £3 million project closes officially on Thursday, November 8 at 5pm.

The stakes are high but, on paper at least, the question of whether local businesses should back the setting up of a Business Improvement District might appear to be a ‘no-brainer.’

The slogan on the cover of the Harrogate BID’s pitch to local businesses in the run-up to this potentially crucial democratic vote almost says it all: “your voice, your choice.”

Forming a BID (Business Improvement District) is scarcely a new idea - more than 300 other towns and cities are currently operating one without a fuss, in general.

In addition, in tough times for the high street nationally which have hit chain stores and restaurants in Harrogate badly in recent years, the BID offers the budget and expertise to cut through the red tape and make changes for the common economic good.

If Harrogate BID does go ahead, it would run from 2019 to 2024 with an estimated budget of more than £3 million.

Its key objectives would include 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.

The man leading the drive towards the creation of a Business Improvement District, Harrogate BID chairman John Fox says it’s a once in a generation chance for businesses to engineer a better future for themselves independently.

He said: “The BID is a one-off chance for us to meet the changing demands of the town’s retail sector to the benefit of all of us.“It it fails, it’s not going to come round again next week.”

The head of one of the town’s most important business groups, believes that having a BID is a matter of having pride in the town.

Sandra Doherty, chief executive and past president of Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, said: "I am supporting the Harrogate BID because to live and work in this beautiful Victorian Spa Town is a honour and a pleasure.

“But we need to stay ahead of the game, grow our offer and support the businesses who in turn make Harrogate the jewel in the Yorkshire Crown.“It’s a town to be proud of. We need to keep it that way by working together.”

If Harrogate businesses return their BID ballot papers with a ‘yes’ 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 will still be a part of BID and can benefit from it. But perhaps it’s not that simple?

Despite its popularity across the UK, the name itself can sometimes generate puzzled looks.The text book definition of a BID as a “partnership between a local authority and local businesses which is intended to provide improvements to the public sphere within a specified geographical area” sounds innocuous but the implication that “businesses are required to pay an additional tax (or levy) in order to fund projects within the district’s boundaries” is where the rub lies.

Last year saw a major controversy in Hexham where traders took to the street in protest in this Northumberland town after its BID was launched.Armed with their own petition, the small businesses complained that they hadn’t been properly consulted and wouldn’t benefit from it.

But that is the exception rather than a rule and a glance at some of the names behind the bid for a Harrogate BID reveals how serious Harrogate’s is.

The BID team includes John Fox (Harrogate at Christmas), Dawn Briggs (Marks & Spencer), James White (Victoria Shopping Centre), Peter Jesper (Jespers), Martin Gerrard (Barclays Bank), Simon Kent (Harrogate Convention Centre), Katy Squire (Betty’s Cafe Tea Rooms and more.

The team and its ‘stakeholders’ from the Harrogate business and political community have been hard at work for months at how BID could help the.environment in the town centre more favourable for businsses and customers.

The cost hasn’t been cheap - it’s taken £85,000 to get to this stage - but the resulting business plan appears wide-ranging and thorough.

The amount of detail in its lengthy list of fully-costed polices to improve the town centre shows Harrogate BID aims to make a difference.

With an estimated total budget of more than £3 million from the proposed business levy, the Harrogate BID could have the capability of doing real good.

Potential difficulty might not lie in the question of what to do with that money pot, but which of the vast array of positive ideas should be cherry-picked and given priority in the first five years of Harrogate BID.

The Government may have woken up to the state of the nation’s shops and bars and restaurants in the Chancellors’ Budget with its changes in business rates and the establishment of a fighting fund for town centres but fears remain that tough times may continue.

But the head of Harrogate’s Victoria Shopping Centre is certain that now is the time to embrace BID.

James White, centre manager of Victoria Shopping Centre, said: “There are some great minds in Harrogate’s business community and by bringing these people together we can be a force of good for the town. With little over a week to go until the BID ballot closes we need every yes vote we can. “Harrogate needs a BID and will make a success of a BID without any doubt. “Please make a difference and vote yes.“We all know about the head wind which retailers are facing. “While the chancellor has made some concessions with rate relief for independents, this will be a great help for some indies, but will not make retailing issues disappear overnight.”

John Fox said: “It’s good that business rates are going to be cut by a third for all retailers in England with a rateable value of £51,000 or less but it’s only for two years so far.“What we really need is fundamental changes in the way business rates are set up in the first place. If approved, a BID would be looking at things like that.“It’s no good complaining about ratable values and empty shops without trying to do something about it.“BID would give us an option to help Harrogate businesses. I think we should all give it a try for five years.”

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