DURHAM firms are putting their hands in their pocket to improve the city centre.
Businesses and organisations have voted in favour of taking more control over their own futures by setting up a new Business Improvement District, in a scheme which will see more than £1.5million pumped into the city centre over the next five years.
Business Improvement Districts (Bids) are part of a national drive to encourage closer partnerships between local councils and their business communities.
A Bid is a defined area within which rate-paying businesses decide on new improvements to help transform their area and then vote to agree the investment. Money is ring-fenced to provide the improvements agreed through the Bid strategy.
The Durham Bid is expected to start in December and will be financed through a 1.5 per cent levy on business rates, the proceeds of which will be invested in the city centre and on projects the businesses themselves have identified and set out in the Bid Plan.
In order to be approved, a Bid scheme has to meet two criteria – a simple majority of businesses voting have to back the scheme but it must also attract the support of more than half the rateable value of businesses voting.
Durham’s ballot was overseen by the Electoral Reform Service and saw 86 per cent of the businesses which voted supporting the plan, while the proposal attracted the support of 76 per cent of the rateable value of businesses voting.
Bid Group chairman Richard Toynbee said the successful vote had been a long time coming: “This a fantastic result for all involved and allows Durham City Centre to improve further over the next five years through the proposals detailed in our Bid. It has been a long and tough two-and-a-half years work and I would like to thank all involved for their time and support in making a real difference to Durham’s future,” he said.
Michelle Sheen runs Warm Sanctuary, one of the independent businesses that supported the scheme, and sat on the Bid Task Group.
“We are delighted the hard work has paid off,” she said. “The real work starts now though in delivering the new initiatives and the team aim to get started immediately in forming the new Bid company and adding in the extra value to our town.
“We hope to see the first delivery of projects for the Christmas retail period.”
The Bid scheme will last for five years initially and can be extended with a further vote. Plans for a Bid for Sunderland city centre are also in the pipeline.