Ambitious bid to make Norwich an even finer city

A rallying cry has been sounded for businesses in Norwich to have their say to help make the city centre a better place for shoppers, tourists and workers.

A campaign has been launched to find out what business bosses, shopkeepers and other organisations in the city want to see done to improve the city centre.

And part of the campaign will see businesses and organisations asked whether they would support the creation of a Business Improvement District (BID) in Norwich.

Such a district would see businesses contribute a portion of their business rates which would go into a pot which could be used to make improvements to the city centre, pulling in more shoppers and tourists.

The Norwich City Centre Partnership questionnaire was sent to more than 1,200 Norwich city centre businesses on Monday, giving them the chance to say what they think of the city centre and what needs to be done to provide the best possible trading and working environment.

The views of businesses will help guide the partnership in understanding what improvements need to be made and whether a Norwich BID would be supported if it meets the needs of local businesses.

Stefan Gurney, Norwich's city centre manager, said: 'The questionnaire is really an opportunity for businesses to have their say, first of all on what they think of some of the areas of Norwich at the moment, in terms of the environment, how it is perceived by visitors, what they think of the way it is marketed, how it is served by public transport and what they would improve if they were in charge.

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'We are going out to have face-to-face talks with the businesses. It's about us having a conversation with them, saying that Norwich is a beautiful and vibrant city, but there are ways in which it could be improved further.

'They should have received letters this week and we hope they will respond by August 26. We'd like as many as possible to let us know their views.'

If a Norwich BID is set up, it would be up to a board, made up of business bosses, to decide how to spend the money, which could be about �600,000 a year – or even more if other funding streams can be unlocked.

Depending on what businesses want, the money could be used for a wide range of projects, such as making the city centre safer and cleaner, extra promotion of what Norwich has to offer, boosts for the night-time economy, or a series of brand new festivals and events to attract more people into the city.

The Norwich City Centre Partnership is working with the Association of Town Centre Managers (ATCM) to help in looking at whether a Norwich BID would work and has secured European funding to investigate it.

A BID has to take in a defined geographical area, and the city centre partnership has drawn up a draft map stretching from Chapel Field Road to Upper King Street and from Surrey Street to Upper Goat Lane.

Before a BID can get off the ground, it has to get at least 50pc of votes in both votes cast and rateable value of votes cast – which protects the interests of both small and large organisations.

Once voted for, the levy, possibly 1pc of rateable value, would have to be paid by all ratepayers within that area, with the BID running for five years.

If businesses make clear they are interested in the BID, then the goal would be for the ballot to be held in October next year and, if businesses vote to go for it, then the BID would come into effect in April 2013.

Mr Gurney said: 'BIDs are a concept which have been around since the early 2000s, backed by the government. The ones which have run in other places have been successful and a high number of them have been renewed at the end of their five-year life span.

'There's examples such as Bedfordshire and Lincolnshire, where they have looked at things such as making streets cleaner and safer, with good transport links and a vibrant retail area.'

The idea of a business improvement district has got the thumbs up from a number of businesses in the city.

Peter Mitchell, chairman of the Norwich City Centre Partnership and managing director of Jarrold, said: 'Numerous initiatives over the past 10 years have greatly enhanced the attraction of Norwich city centre to those who live, or work, or visit here and propelled Norwich forward as one of the UK's top destinations for retail, culture and heritage.

'A Business Improvement District for Norwich city centre could play an important role in maintaining forward momentum during the years ahead when the public sector will be unable to shoulder the same level of leadership.

'The city centre partnership will be at the heart of the project in 2011-12 to define and to communicate the opportunity the BID represents, because the partnership believes firmly that the collaborative model in Norwich achieves important things for our city which we simply cannot do working on our own.'

And Davina Tanner, general manager of the Chapelfield Shopping Centre, said it could help draw even more people to discover what Norwich has to offer.

She said: 'I think a Business Improvement District is exactly the right thing for Norwich. It would give a further opportunity to celebrate what we have got in the city.

'People in Norwich know how fantastic it is, as do the tourists who visit the city, but this will enable us to reach out even further to show what we have here.

'We will be able to work more closely with VisitNorwich and with the newly former Local Enterprise Partnership. Norwich is already a great destination, but this can help make it even better by everyone working together.

'It's a real opportunity to put on even more events. We already work on things like NORWICHRISTMAS and this could help us to put on others, which will bring people into the city.'

She said she realised there might be concern at an extra levy on top of business rates, but said: 'Yes, it goes on the business rates, but it will benefit everybody. 'They have proved very successful in other cities and these aren't things that the city and county council would normally be offering – it's above and beyond that.'

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Do you think the creation of a Business Improvement District in Norwich is a good idea? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE, or email