How business boost could benefit Norwich
Go for it! That is the message sent to Norwich by other places where businesses have joined forces to breathe new life into their towns and cities.
Less graffiti, cleaner streets, better transport, increased safety and more tourists are just some of the benefits of creating business improvement districts, according to those already part of such schemes.
A questionnaire has been sent to more than 1,000 businesses in Norwich asking them to have their say on how the city centre could become a better place for shoppers, tourists and workers.
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 an amount based on their rateable value which would go into a pot which could be used to make improvements to the city centre, pulling in more shoppers and tourists.
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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.
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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 – and 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.
Business bosses in other towns and cities which have already got such districts up and running said they were delighted with the results.
Another eastern cathedral city – Lincoln – agreed to set up a business improvement district in 2005 and four out of five firms recently agreed to renew the initiative after the first five years.
Lincoln Business Improvement Group (Lincoln BIG) is a business in its own right and is controlled by a board of directors drawn from stakeholders in the city centre.
With a levy equivalent to 1pc of rateable value, paid by all except very small businesses in the city centre, the initiative has led to a string of benefits for businesses and shoppers.
It includes cut-price bus season tickets for levy payers and their employees, wardens in the city centre making sure it is kept clean, an increase in police community support officers, support for Lincoln In Bloom and a wider range of events to draw shoppers and tourists.
Matt Corrigan, chief executive of Lincoln BIG, said: 'The crucial thing is that it has made a difference in terms of the city centre.
'We make it cleaner, brighter, safer and a lot more active, with events going on all year round. More people are coming to our city centre and when they come they are staying for longer, which is good news for businesses.
'We have a team of street wardens keeping an eye out to ensure the city centre is clean and free from graffiti, while we have an extensive security network making sure the streets are safe.
'We do our best to promote the city centre all year round. We've currently got a beach in the middle of Lincoln. then we've got our busking festival and then we'll be getting the reindeer organised for Christmas.'
He said that having a business improvement district gave the businesses much more of a voice when talking to the council, with more of a partnership approach to sorting out issues.
He added: 'We have been lucky in that we have been able to use the levy to open up other revenue streams and grant funding, so for every �1 put in by the businesses we have got �2 from other avenues.'
Mr Corrigan said the business improvement district had created a level playing field for the businesses involved and said it helped the city compete with out-of-town superstores and internet shopping.
He said the lion's share of the money came from about 50 bigger businesses, but that smaller businesses benefited from being part of the BID.
He added: 'They have a say in it, and they get a good share of the resources which come from it. The biggest hurdle we had here was convincing people this money wasn't going to the council, that it was coming back to local businesses and that they would choose what to do with it.
'The fact we have re-balloted and nearly 80pc wanted to renew the BID for another five years shows how successfully it has been.'
For more information on how Norwich could get a business improvement district, visit www.norwichbid.co.uk
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 firstname.lastname@example.org