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Stortford bids to become business improvement district

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Bishops Stortford general views. Potter Street/South Street. Pic: Vikki Lince
Bishops Stortford general views. Potter Street/South Street. Pic: Vikki Lince

A bigger voice for businesses and a £220,000 annual town centre improvement fund is on the cards for Bishop's Stortford.

Traders could vote as soon as next April in a ballot to set up a Business Improvement District, generating cash for priorities set by shops and their commercial neighbours to improve access, streamline street cleaning and set up a new website and security system.

There is no limit on what projects or services can be provided through a Business Improvement District. The only requirement is that it should be in addition to services provided by local authorities.

With the backing of East Herts District Council, a first stage feasibility study has been completed by Central Management Solutions (CMS) and now a steering group is being set up to guide the bid.

Progress was outlined by CMS’ Lee Walker and consultant Marc Myers at a meeting at Rhodes attended by representatives of Urban Spa and Elements, Click Click, Nockolds, Mr Barbers, Marks and Spencer and the Bishop’s Stortford Independent as well as East Herts District Council’s business engagement manager Chris Smith.

Mr Walker said: “The real point of a business improvement district is to draw the business community together and give it a real voice in the area and deliver a pot of money for improvements.”

The BID team now needs to build on the initial positive reception to the proposals from businesses to ensure that next April’s planned vote is in favour of the changes which will add a levy of up to two per cent of rateable value to businesses’ bills, with the option to exempt the smallest traders.

For a BID to go ahead, the ballot must be won on two counts: straight majority and majority of rateable value to ensure that the interests of large and small businesses are protected. There is no minimum turnout threshold and the vote has to be repeated after five years to continue.

Mr Walker said that in other BID areas, initiatives financed for by the levy – such as recycling – ultimately saved more than businesses had to pay.

Across the country, chains like Marks and Spencer, Next and Boots have supported the innovation.

Karen Burton, of Karen’s Cakes, Northgate End said she backed the BID, but warned there was still a lot of work to do to make enough Bishop’s Stortford businesses aware of the benefits.

Traders at the meeting agreed to try and engage their neighbours in the process and an information drop-in day is being organised later this month, with the help of East Herts District Council, to increase participation.

CMs will also be seeking the endorsement of Bishop’s Stortford Town Council.

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