Herts Ad Comment: Battlelines drawn over the BID

Herts Advertiser comment

Herts Advertiser comment - Credit: Archant

You probably couldn’t have chosen a worse time to ballot on a new initiative which will hit struggling businesses where they are already feeling the pinch, in their pockets.

The ongoing lack of any adequate tourist information office, mounting business rates, an unprofitable Christmas market, and the district council’s annual quick fix revenue generator - another hike in car parking charges - are already taking their toll on St Albans city centre.

So the very idea of having to find a further outlay to sustain a proposed Business Improvement District is bound to be unpopular in some quarters, with accusations that it is little more than a stealth tax to subsidise essential services like cleaning and maintaining the city centre.

There are also concerns about the fairness of the voting process, with votes based on premises’ rateable value, giving the council’s toilets more of a say than some smaller shops, rather than a one-vote, one-business approach.

In contrast, supporters of the BID believe it will help improve street furniture and floral displays, provide ‘street rangers’ to tackle antisocial behaviour, and allow for more and bigger events to take place in order to drive visitors and improve trade. The amount businesses pay would also be frozen for the five year duration of the initial BID, rather than rising with inflation.

Neighbouring Hitchin already has a BID in place, which has been resoundly supported by the business community and also helped boost the independent ethos of the town, so with the right team at the helm it could be a very positive move for St Albans, and hopefully bring in much-needed custom from outside the district.

But in order to win the hearts and minds of those opposing the scheme, the council must offer firm guarantees of improvements to services and facilities within its own remit, or risk it being rejected by businesses already disgruntled by the lack of perceived support.