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Security guards to patrol empty premises in Bishop's Stortford town centre

Two security officers will patrol Bishop’s Stortford town centre from Wednesday evening (April 1) to help safeguard empty premises.

The £5,000 operation is being financed by the Bishop’s Stortford BID (Business Improvement District) during the coronavirus lockdown which has shut all but essential businesses. Initially the patrols will run until Monday April 13, but this is subject to review in accordance with Government advice.

After the Government instructed the majority of shops and services to close to contain the spread of the virus, some outlets were able to remove stock but others were forced to shutter their stores and leave. Many have notices in their windows warning that no cash or valuables have been left inside.

BID manager Gina Thomas with chairman Karen Burton
BID manager Gina Thomas with chairman Karen Burton

On Wednesday the BID emailed its members to say: “With shops and businesses currently closed and the high street area quiet at night, it was felt there was a potential increased risk of criminal activity, so the BID has stepped in to provide extra security coverage, working alongside the local police.

"The BID-funded security will be carrying out regular patrols of the designated area throughout the night. They will be working alongside police officers in the town as part of their stepped-up patrols and current operations.”

Stortford BID has chosen ParkGuard, a specialist in working with local authorities and police forces to provide support.

Prezzo, North Street, Bishop's Stortford. .Pic Vikki Lince. (32799241)
Prezzo, North Street, Bishop's Stortford. .Pic Vikki Lince. (32799241)

The BID board is also lobbying Hertford and Stortford MP Julie Marson to persuade her Government to finance a BID levy holiday for the town centre’s businesses.

Bills for the next precept are set to land this month, but the board decided to delay their issue pending the outcome of negotiations.

In July 2018, Stortford town centre retailers, restaurants and other service providers backed the launch of a five-year Business Improvement District (BID), with 86% of outlets which took part in the ballot in favour (88% in favour by rateable value).

The BID has an annual budget of £204,575, which is paid by businesses with rateable values of more than £10,000 who are billed 1.5% of their RV up to a maximum of £15,000.

BID manager Gina Thomas said: “I've written to our MP Julie Marson. She has acknowledged and has said she will support us and will talk to the relevant minister on our behalf. In the meantime, whilst we await a decision on this, it does not seem sensible to send out the levy bills. Once we know the outcome of this we will then discuss timings of bills and payment dates as required.”

Gina is also collating information and advice for businesses affected by the pandemic and posting it on the BID’s website.

The board has cancelled or postponed a number of initiatives it had planned, including a Backing Business event which was due to take place on Tuesday evening (March 31) at Water Lane Bar and a range of spring festivities. They were scheduled to be launched on Sunday (April 5) with the distribution of 500 chocolate chicks, face painting and a visit by the Easter bunny in Market Square.

Plans for an Easter egg trail and competition have been ditched and the BID is instead donating the first prize – a luxury 3kg chocolate egg – to hard-working NHS staff at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow.

Other events, such as a repeat of last year’s Gindependence Day celebrations and a food and drink promotion, now hang in the balance.

Gina said: “Our focus is on collating useful information, resources and news and circulating to levy payers via our website and social media. The website has a dedicated page which is updated daily and two email newsletters have been sent out.”

The BID is working with Market Square law firm Nockolds and business advisers Go2Ex to ensure members get the best advice.

After the latest board meeting she said: “We discussed how important this is now for levy payers to have someone to speak to about what Government options are right for them and what they are entitled to.”

The BID has appointed a sub-committee, led by Jackson Square centre manager Michael Smith, to react quickly to further developments as a result of the pandemic.

Looking to the future, the BID will aim to help businesses increase their hygiene training and precautions for staff and customers as a result of the contagion.

For more information visit the Bishop's Stortford BID's coronavirus update page on its website.

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