Wilmslow businesses set to be balloted over BID to regenerate town centre

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Wilmslow looks set to become the first town in Cheshire East to create a Business Improvement District (BID).

A BID is a defined area where business rate payers have voted in a ballot to pay a levy, in addition to business rates, into a fund for a fixed period (normally 5 years), and that levy is then managed to deliver specific agreed initiatives to benefit the BID area. The majority of BIDs are focused on town centres and BIDs have the potential to bring extra regeneration to a town.

The priorities for BID levy spend will depend on the exact detail of the final BID proposal but town centre BIDs might typically support such things as improving the general appearance of the centre, enhanced marketing and promotional activity, events to stimulate footfall, crime reduction initiatives, access initiatives and support for the business community.

There are currently around 324 BIDs across Great Britain, Northern Ireland and Ireland, but none in Cheshire East at present. There are however a number in neighbouring authorities including: Manchester BID; Stockport Town Centre BID; Warrington Town Centre BID, Altrincham BID, and five BIDs in Cheshire West and Chester.

Cheshire East Council has received formal notification that Groundwork CLM, on behalf of the Wilmslow Town Centre Management Group, intend to submit a proposal for a Business Improvement District (BID) in Wilmslow Town Centre on or after 12 May 2022.

The Council will be responsible for holding a postal ballot on the BID proposal and if successful the authority will be responsible for collecting the BID levy on behalf of the BID. The initial costs are estimated to be in excess of £12,700 - which includes £5000 for the ballot, which it intends to outsource, and £7,700 for costs associated with updating software. Additionally, there would be the cost for collecting the levy, estimated to be in the region of £7,400 per year, and because Cheshire East owns properties, if the BID is successful it will have to pay the levy on those properties estimated to be £5,500 a year.

The Corporate Policy Committee discussed the proposal at their meeting on Thursday, 14th April.

Speaking about the benefits Cheshire East as an authority would get, Development & Regeneration Delivery Manager Jo Wise said "The general benefits are hopefully an enhancement to the vitality and viability of the town centre which aligns to our corporate plan and also many of our policies. More specifically I think it would be very dependant on the exact detail that's in the bid proposal. So for example, one of the issues being considered by the bid proposer is that they could do something to improve security in Wilmslow town centre in the evening. Now potentially that could have direct benefits for all sorts of businesses, whether it's the security of buildings and land we own that could have quite a direct beneficial impact for us."

Councillor Craig Browne proposed the recommendations. He said "Business Improvement Districts are frequently regarded as valuable additions to our town centres and town centres generally and of course help to support the general economy.

"Without wishing to predetermine the outcome of a final ballot, I do believe it is appropriate for this Council to facilitate such a process and to enable the Town Centre Management Group to progress its proposals. However, I also that the Council should seek to recover the costs associated with this."

Members of the Corporate Policy Committee voted unanimously in favour of the Wilmslow BID proposal.

Whilst the Wilmslow Town Centre BID proposal is still in development, the Council has been provided with draft proposals. These are subject to change until the BID proposal is finalised.

If the ballot is successful, the feasibility work provided to the Council projects that the BID could raise around £195,000 - £247,000 per annum in levy income for sole use by the Wilmslow Town Centre BID, although this will depend on the final BID proposal.

If the ballot is successful then even those businesses, if there are any, that voted against the BID would have to pay the levy.

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Comments

Here's what readers have had to say so far. Why not add your thoughts below.

Guy Lightowler
Friday 22nd April 2022 at 7:08 am
I work for a retail business, based in Cheshire, with over 200 shops across the UK. We pay BID levies on approx 60% of those shops, including in Stockport, Manchester City Centre, Warrington and Chester, referenced in the article.

Across those shops, the introduction of a Business Improvement District has made zero difference to the shop performance. As we are lawfully obliged to pay the levies (on top of already onerous business rates) they would be accurately described as a costs burden as a tax without benefit. Readers can for their own opinion whether the town centres of Stockport et all have actually improved since the BIDs were launched!

Sadly a large industry has grown around BID levies. They are afterall becoming big business. (A £qrt of a million to be levied from Wilmslow businesses alone according to the article). The fees started with Groundwork CLM referenced above, and typically we see a very large chunk of the BID levies going in administration or on large salaries for "BID Managers etc".

Multiple retailers that understand the reality of BIDs will vote against them, but as a result the BID industry will target naive retailers in order to try to achieve the votes required to launch the BID.

I would urge Councillor Browne and those invited to vote to properly consider what is being offered here. The argument to "pay us a bit more tax and we'll do all the things that your council doesn't" may sound compelling to those that don't actually have to pay, but the reality is it is just another costs burden on top of already onerous business rates. Another nail in the coffin of high street retail and another costs barrier to anyone thinking about opening a shop in Wilmslow. Wilmslow businesses should vote against it.
Stuart Redgard
Sunday 24th April 2022 at 10:01 pm
#Guy Lightowler

i appreciate your comments but the BID isn't meant to improve your business performance. Its intention is to improve the BID area. All of the tax that you pay as a retailer goes to central government and very little of it gets returned to the local authority in which your retail premises are located. All of BID levy goes direct to the local authority and by law it can only be spent on improving the BID area.

It sounds a very sensible proposal in my opinion.
Guy Lightowler
Wednesday 27th April 2022 at 9:50 pm
#Stuart Redguard

To clarify your comment - BID levies do not go "direct to the local authority" as you suggest. A separate BID management company is created to spend the BID money collected. Typically this is a private company, and entirely unregulated. If they want to want to blow the BID levy collected on their own large salaries for example, (as has happened in some BIDs elsewhere in the UK), so be it.

My point is that cafes, restaurants, retailers and other physical businesses in Wilmslow are already carrying a large burden of overheads, not least of all business rates. I hope they will properly consider what is on offer before voting for further obligatory costs in the name of BID levies. I repeat - can you honestly tell me that Stockport, Warrington or Chester have "improved" since the BIDs were introduced? (Of course not! They are each less attractive now than before the levies were introduced - for residents, visitors and businesses alike)

What will improve Wilmslow is to support local businesses - making it easier for them to thrive rather than financially harder. Only my view of course (but it is informed ....).
Stuart Redgard
Monday 2nd May 2022 at 11:06 am
#Guy Lightowler

I can honestly tell you that I don't know if Stockport, Warrington or Chester have "improved" since their BIDs were introduced? Why? Because I don't shop in Stockport, Warrington, or Chester and haven't been to them since the vote to create a BID was taken. But being a resident of Wilmslow, I shop in the town centre on average 4 times a week.

And to clarify your comment - " A Business Improvement District can be set up by the local authority, a business ratepayer or a person or company whose purpose is to develop the Business Improvement District area, or that has an interest in the land in the area." (Source http://www.gov.uk)

In the case of Wilmslow, the BID is being funded through Wilmslow Town Council but managed by Groundwork on behalf of the council.

The whole purpose of the BID for Wilmslow is to Improve the Public Realm areas in "the core" of the town centre, as defined in the Wilmslow Neighbourhood Plan.

Having gone through a consultation and referendum process, (like the BID will do too), the Wilmslow Neighbourhood Plan is now a "Statutory Planning Document".

Stuart Redgard (without a U)

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