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Colchester’s town traders torn on whether to go ahead with Business Improvement District proposals

PUBLISHED: 13:50 18 June 2018

Peter Donaldson of Red Lion Books in Colchester. Picture: Sarah Donaldson

Peter Donaldson of Red Lion Books in Colchester. Picture: Sarah Donaldson

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Colchester traders could be getting much more of a say on the future of their town, if they vote in favour of proposals to give their town business improvement district (BID) status.

Some of the floral displays in Colchester Castle ParkSome of the floral displays in Colchester Castle Park

Colchester councillors unanimously greenlighted the proposals earlier this week. Now, its up to town centre businessowners to decide whether they’re willing to pay a levy towards forming a partnership that would generate new ideas to entice more shoppers into town.

Whilst other regional towns such as Ipswich, Bury Saint Edmunds, Lowestoft, Southend and Chelmsford already have BID partnerships in place, Colchester has been “slow on the uptake,” according Bryan Johnston, a partner in Goody Burrett law firm who is pushing the project forward. “Increasingly, local authorities haven’t got the resources to support the town centre,” he explained. “Businesses have to look beyond their own boundaries. We want to raise the best part of £450,000 over the next five years to help make Colchester cleaner, greener and safer.”

Whilst internet shopping is having a negative impact on town centres up and down the country, Mr Burrett feels that Colchester is in a better position than most to fend off economic challenges. “We have the castle, the Mercury Theatre and First Site arts centre, and that means we can create a shopping experience like no other. And we can get external funding by applying for lottery grants and local authority grants through the platform of BID.”

If plans are approved, the majority of qualifying businesses will pay 1.5 per cent of their rateable value into the BID pot, and this money will be used on anything the businesses feel needs improving. 291 town centre business owners with a rateable value of £15,000 or more are eligible to vote, and they’ve been mulling over whether to give the BID proposals their blessing.

Colchester High Street Colchester High Street

But any changes will come too late for Goldsmiths luxury jewellers in Culver Square which is closing down soon, and for the owner of Coffee Cube, Terry Wright, who is selling his cafe on Museum Street due to “unpredictable trading conditions.” “BID’s role should be draw in more shoppers with free community events,” he said. “We got caught out the last time there was an event in Castle Park because we didn’t know about it beforehand and the whole world turned up. If we’d had a BID, we could all coordinate and keep eachother informed, then we would have been better prepared.”

The BID proposals have the support of David Burch, Director of Policy at Essex Chambers of Commerce. “We would urge all businesses in the BID area to support it and get involved with helping deliver it should it be approved,” he added.

But John Wilson, who runs The Natural Health Shop on Sir Isaac’s Walk, says hasn’t received enough information to make up his mind. “In a nutshell, I haven’t got a clue, nobody has been to see us to explain what it’s all about. I just hear bits and pieces on the grapevine.”

Peter Donaldson, owner of the High Street’s 40-year-old bookstore Red Lion Books, said if proposals for BID were passed, he wanted to see it used as a platform for creative ideas to keep Britain’s oldest town vibrant.

“Colchester really is in need of some new thinking about how to keep the town going as a destination and leisure seekers alongside Chelmsford, which has moved ahead of us in making the town centre as attractive as possible,” he said. ”We all want to keep the High Street alive, which is the problem that every town centre is facing right now. But it needs to be carefully thought through.

“Big Sunday on July 8 is a community event organised by a small group of concerned citizens wanting to make things happen, and Colchester in Bloom work tirelessly to improve the streets with flowers.

“BID should draw on initiatives such as these that are already in place, and not take a top down approach.”

Peter Donaldson, the owner of the High Street’s 40 year-old bookstore Red Lion Books, says if proposals for BID are passed, he wants to see it used as a platform for creative ideas to keep Britain’s oldest town vibrant.

“Colchester really is in need of some new thinking about how to keep the town going as a destination and leisure seekers alongside Chelmsford, which has moved ahead of us in making the town centre as attractive as possible,” he said.

“We all want to keep the High Street alive, which is the problem that every town centre is facing right now. But it needs to be carefully thought through.”

Mr Donaldson accuses the town’s borough council of being slow to respond to changing times, but he also doesn’t want to see BID becoming an “excuse to offload the responsibilty for council services onto businesses.”

He added: “Big Sunday on July 8 is a community event organised by a small group of concerned citizens wanting to make things happen, and Colchester in Bloom work tirelessly to improve the streets with flowers. BID should draw on initiatives such as these that are already in place, and not take a top down approach.”

A new website https://www.ourcolchester.co.uk/ launched last month to promote BID to town centre businesses.

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