Plan for hosts to give visitors the inside track on Norwich

A team of 'hosts' could be introduced to welcome visitors to Norwich and to give them the inside track on what the city has to offer, if businesses vote 'yes' to a Business Improvement District (BID)

Voting is under way over whether companies in the city centre want Norwich to set up a BID, with the polls closing at the end of this month.

The BID concept, which has proved successful in many other towns and cities, is that businesses pay a one per cent levy on the rateable value of their business, which goes into a pot.

That pot would raise �3m over the five-year lifetime of the BID, with �660,153 raised each year from the 1pc levy on 670 companies in the area.

That money would be divided into four main projects: promoting our fine city; the Norwich experience; a greener cleaner Norwich; and a stronger voice.

Over five years, half a million pounds would go into initiatives under The Norwich Experience banner, and one of the key ideas is to introduce what have been dubbed 'city hosts'

This team of easily identifiable friendly faces would welcome visitors and share with them the sort of information about Norwich usually reserved for friends.

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Stefan Gurney, project manager for the BID, said: 'It's all about making Norwich an enjoyable place to visit, with the sense that you can come here and these people will provide information about the city. 'It might be working with established groups, such as the blue badge guides, or providing the resources ourselves.

'The idea is that these people will greet visitors and suggest to them where they might like to go, or tell them about events which are happening - the sort of knowledge which makes Norwich feel like a really inviting city and which will encourage people to come back to the city centre.'

While out and about, the hosts would also be able to report environmental or safety issues which detract from the appeal of the city.

They could also help reduce anti-social behaviour, say the backers of the BID, helping to reassure businesses, workers, shoppers and tourists that Norwich is a welcoming and safe city.

The BID money would also provide a subsidy which would help keep tabs on crime and disorder in the city centre.

Many businesses are already signed up to the Norwich City Centre Partnership's Alert Radio Scheme.

With a digital radio security system, an online information database, a 24 hour control room and a direct link to the city council's CCTV and Norfolk police, the Alert scheme helps tip off businesses, retailers and licensees about troublemakers and shoplifters.

The money which goes in to the BID would be used to provide a subsidy for the system to help further reduce crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour

Mr Gurney said: 'We want to make that affordable and engaging for all businesses. There's more than 400 businesses within the BID area, so we could have a real network of communication which will reduce incidents of crime and anti-social behaviour.

'It's not a huge issue in Norwich, but it all helps to show people that the city centre is a safe environment.'

Another objective of the BID is to do more to promote the city's early evening economy, pointing out that the city centre has plenty to offer once the shops have shut.

The idea is to campaign to raise the profile of bars, pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres with a co-ordinated approach.

Mr Gurney said: 'When people talk about going out into Norwich, many still tend to think of that as meaning going into Prince of Wales Road.

'That's a very defined offer, but there's much more to the city than drinking and clubbing. We've got lots of cinemas, theatres, pubs and restaurants and there's a feeling that more could be done to promote them as nights out in the city.

'We are hoping that businesses could work together so, say, you could get a taxi into the city, which worked in conjunction with a restaurant and a theatre, so you got a discount across all of them together.'

Jayne Raffles, who owns four city centre restaurants including St Benedicts Restaurant and The Library, said: 'As a group of independent restaurants in Norwich, which is passionate about sustainable investment, we believe winning the Norwich BID can only be a win-win situation for Norwich in these economic times, to benefit businesses, residents and shoppers in our fine city.'

See tomorrow's Norwich Evening News to find out how the a BID could lead to a greener, cleaner city.

Do you have a business story? Call Evening News business editor Shaun Lowthorpe on 01603 772471, or email