City councillors have agreed that Lancaster City Council should cast a ‘Yes’ vote in a ballot to decide whether Lancaster city centre should be designated as a Business Improvement District (BID).
More than 350 businesses and organisations which have a rateable value of more than £10,000 are taking part in the ballot, which runs until next Thursday.
If a simple majority of those voting are in favour, and their rateable value is greater than those voting no, the BID will be introduced next April.
All businesses, including those that voted no would, then have to pay an extra 1.5 per cent on their business rates to raise £700,000 to spend on city centre improvements over the next three years.
The cash could be used to pay for things like street furniture, extra street cleaning, special events and new parking facilities in an attempt to improve the trading environment.
A BiD manager would be employed to oversee investment at a cost of £30,000 a year.
Lancaster City Council would have to pay the levy on 12 of its properties, including Lancaster Town Hall and its office in Cable Street.
A report prepared by council officers ahead of last week’s full council meeting recommended that councillors should agree to the council voting in favour of the BID, which would mean an extra £9,400 a year on its business rates.
At the meeting, Paul Cusimano, of Joseph and Co Menswear in North Road, who heads up the BID steering group, urged councillors to support the scheme.
He said “Our ambition – although a hefty one, but one we feel is realistically achievable – is to improve the economic prosperity of the city centre.
“The delivery plan that you have already seen is the culmination of 12 months canvassing, consulting, and debate with businesses across our city.”
He added: “Members of the council, we want to improve people’s attitudes towards the city centre by raising the profile of Lancaster as a destination and business location.
“The BID is a great opportunity for businesses to have a stake in the future success of Lancaster city centre.”
While the BID has attracted the support of high profile local businesses including Banks-Lyons and Arteria, other companies have spoken out against it.
The main reason given for opposing the scheme has been the extra cost involved during a time of difficult trading conditions in the wake of the double-dip recession.
Another argument put forward was that the council should be routinely investing in the kind of things that would be funded by the BID using its income from council tax and business rates.
If it is approved, the scheme would have to go to another ballot to be renewed after five years
There are currently more than 100 BIDs across the UK.