SUNDERLAND businesses were today urged to help breathe new life into the ailing city centre.
More than 450 businesses will soon get the chance to vote on plans for a new Business Improvement District (Bid) to boost retail trade.
Plans for the BID were unveiled at a packed public meeting at Sunderland Minster earlier this year.
The proposal would see those properties with a business rateable value of £15,000 or more pay a levy of 1.5 per cent a year over an initial five-year period, which business leaders say would generate about £3.4million to invest in the city centre.
The BID leaders would also be able to seek additional funding from organisations such as the Arts Council and Big Lottery Fund, to top up the levy pot.
The move comes as new figures from the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) show Britain’s High Streets are still under intense pressure, with sales this month plunging at their fastest pace in more than a year.
Asda’s Barry Williams, who is chairman of the CBI’s survey panel, said: “Retail sales growth has weakened since the start of the year as households continue to feel the pinch, with wages failing to keep pace with the cost of living.”
Also, the national Centre for Retail Research is warning one in five stores could disappear altogether as more people turn to shopping online, with music, books, gifts and DIY shops at greatest risk.
Sunderland City Centre Traders’ Association (SCCTA) says retail sales figures prove the urgent need to do more to attract shoppers into the city centre, and is urging eligible businesses to vote yes in the BID ballot.
Spokesman Giles McCourt told the Echo: “There are certainly going to be challenging times ahead for the High Street, but it does not have to be all doom and gloom. “SCCTA was established to bring smaller retailers and independent businesses together so that there is strength in numbers.
“We all need to be mindful that city centres need to diversify what they offer, which in turn will boost footfall and ultimately shoppers.
“We are working closely with Sunderland Live and Sunderland Bid to ensure Sunderland city adapts to the challenges.”
Ballot papers are due to be sent out to eligible businesses on June 20.
They will then have until July 18 to return their votes.
In order to succeed, the BID needs to attract the support of 50 per cent of all businesses voting and 50 per cent of the total rateable value of those businesses.
A formal business plan for the BID has been drawn up and is due to be ratified by Sunderland City Council shortly. Details of how the BID will operate, the area covered and what is planned can be viewed at www.bidsunderland.co.uk