Initiative to introduce St Albans city centre BID criticised as ‘confusing and vague’

The Bellacinos team (L-R) Teodora Mincu, Erald Angoni, Saad Khan and owners Eva and Jimmy Angoni.

The Bellacinos team (L-R) Teodora Mincu, Erald Angoni, Saad Khan and owners Eva and Jimmy Angoni. - Credit: Archant

A business scheme proposed to give a £2.6 million boost to St Albans city centre continues to receive a mixed response from firms likely to pay an additional 1.8 per cent levy for its introduction.

At 5pm today (Thursday), a ballot closes for the Business Improvement District (BID), which if voted in will deliver a five-year programme of marketing, events and improving the city’s appearance.

Its proposers have also promised an increase in visitor numbers.

The Herts Advertiser published an article last week about Paul Hargreaves, owner of Mail Boxes Etc (MBE) in Holywell Hil, criticising the scheme as a ‘stealth tax’ implemented to alleviate the cost to the district council of cleaning and maintaining the city centre.

There has been further criticism from another independent St Albans businessman, who does not wish to be named but employs eight staff in the city.

He said that the scheme would bring no benefit to his business, which provides education.

Furthermore, the business plan and other supporting information circulated alongside the ballot papers to him and hundreds of other voters in the city centre was “vague, full of nothing” and had spelling and grammatical errors, the businessman said.

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Last month 530 businesses and organisations in the proposed designated BID area, including St Peter’s Street, were posted ballot papers to vote on whether the scheme should be set up in St Albans.

But, the annoyed businessman told this paper, the ballot information was “very confusing. The term ‘BID’ is confusing, and there is a lot of nothing in the information”.

He has voted against it, because he does not want to “pay more money. We are a service rather than a shop.

“Should it not be up to the council to pay for graffiti removal, and cleaning the city centre? This should be done as part of the normal rates.”

The man said he was also concerned that of the additional £525,000 levy to be paid annually by affected businesses, tens of thousands of pounds would be channelled towards staff, office and legal/professional costs, insurance and training.

After looking at the budget in the ‘vague’ business plan, he was left wondering “how much would be spent on something relevant”.

The owner of a restaurant in a historic part of town, who also did not wish to be named, criticised the district council for its failure to extend Christmas lighting into French Row, or collect rubbish – which is done by a contractor for an additional cost.

He said: “We really don’t get anything. The council should really do more to help smaller businesses. Maybe the levy should just be paid by bigger businesses, and they should leave smaller, independent ones alone.”

However, there is strong support for the scheme from popular café Bellacino’s, in French Row.

Owners Jimmy and Eva Angoni said they had voted for the BID, as it was a positive idea which should “bring more business”.

The couple added: “We are always busy, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t be busier. We don’t mind paying an extra 1.8 per cent levy, as you have to take the risk.”

A spokesman for the scheme, which if voted in would run from 2017-2022, was unavailable for comment.