“IT is about working together to achieve something really special.”
The Bridges director Andy Bradley is in no doubt about the reasons for creating a new Business Improvement District (BID) in the heart of Sunderland.
The proposal would see businesses with a rateable value of £15,000 or more pay a levy of 1.5 per cent a year over an initial five-year period, in a move business leaders say would generate about £2.7million to invest in the city centre.
Last night’s launch event heard that could be just the beginning, with the BID team able to seek additional funding from organisations such as the Arts Council and Big Lottery Fund.
However, the plan has to win the backing of city centre businesses in a ballot to be held in the summer.
“We face increasing competition from other towns, other cities and, of course, from online businesses,” said Mr Bradley.
“We need to do more, to attract more visitors into the centre and we need to encourage people to stay longer and spend more.”
Stephen Plews, managing director of Sunderland Echo publisher Northeast Press, told the meeting that his home city of Leeds was an example to follow.
“I have got experience first hand of how vibrant city and town centres can have a positive and uplifting impact on people, businesses and the economy,” he said.
“I can guarantee the whole-hearted support of the Sunderland Echo for the BID.”
Gary Hutchinson is chairman of Sunderland Business Ltd, the group behind the BID plan. “We are working to improve the city centre for the benefit of business and for the benefit of the people of the city,” he said.
“This is a great opportunity for us and I would urge everybody to pass the message on and vote yes.”
Allison Thompson, of city-based Ashmore Consulting, emphasised the need for input from city centre businesses.
“BIDs are started for businesses, on behalf of businesses and they set the priorities,” she said.
“A BID can be anything anybody wants it to be.
“That’s why, for Sunderland, we’re not just copying a model – we can make it do whatever we want it to do.”
For more information on the BID plan, visit bidsunderland.co.uk