BID team hail 'yes' vote by businesses

EAST Anglia's first Business Improvement District last night received the backing of local traders - opening the way for a multi-million pound programme of investment.

EAST Anglia's first Business Improvement District last night received the backing of local traders - opening the way for a multi-million pound programme of investment.

The “Yes” vote by businesses in the centre of Ipswich means that a total of £3.2million will be raised over the next five years to fund a package of initiatives designed to improve the town centre as a place to shop, to work, to spend leisure time and, therefore, to do business.

Measures will include the introduction of street rangers to assist businesses and police in the battle against crime, monthly free car parking and park-and-ride promotions, four major marketing campaigns a year and extra safety and cleaning measures.

Ipswich town centre joins an elite list of only 30 locations in the UK to have adopted the BID model which was introduced from the United States in 2001 to encourage investment to improve urban trading environments, with all measures having to be in addition to existing local authority provision.

With the scheme put forward for Ipswich having received the necessary backing of businesses, a 1.2% supplementary rate will now be payable by all non-domestic occupiers within the town centre area from next year.

Voting slips were sent out towards the end of June and businesses had until 5pm last night to return their completed forms, with the official count taking place immediately afterwards at the Civic Centre offices of Ipswich Borough Council.

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The town centre area as defined in the BID proposal stretches from Suffolk College to Ipswich Town Football Club and from Crown Street to the Waterfront.

Out of a total of around 700 businesses eligible to vote, 228 voted in favour of the proposal with 116 voting against - a majority of virtually two-to-one.

A second requirement for the scheme to be approved by occupiers representing a majority in terms of business floor space within the area was achieved by a similar margin.

Paul Clement, director of the Ipswich BID company which was set up to promote the scheme, said: “This is a great result for Ipswich Town Centre.

“It shows that businesses of all sizes and across all sectors must have been persuaded by our ideas, all aimed at making Ipswich better for business, better for customers and better for staff.

“Our task now is to make the most of the tremendous opportunity that this result presents, and we will start work in the morning to make sure there is an immediate difference from next April.

He added: “I am also delighted that around 49% of eligible businesses registered a vote one way or the other. That shows we successfully engaged with the business community and it gives us a real mandate on which to proceed.”

Richard Atkins, the borough council's planning and economic development portfolio holder, added: “This is fantastic news which will enable Ipswich to develop further and to compete more effectively with other regional centres.”

The borough council is contributing assistance to the BID scheme worth around £70,000, which includes conducting last night's vote and collecting the additional levy without charge so that every penny paid by businesses will go towards the agreed package of improvements.

The “yes” vote follows a lengthy campaign to secure the necessary level of support, during which the scheme received the backing of major businesses such as AXA, Debenhams and Marks & Spencer, whose chief executive, Stuart Rose - himself a Suffolk resident - gave the BID package his personal endorsement.

The proposals were drawn up following a consultation process involving businesses, employees and shoppers in the town centre and a sample of people from further afield who do not currently visit Ipswich.

Besides the promotional initiatives and street rangers, who will be supported by a new radio system to link businesses with the police, the BID measures include additional cleaning to address issues such as graffiti and fly posting, lighting and planting schemes to improve the town centre environment and a project team to work on attracting large-scale capital investment schemes.

Ipswich is only the second BID scheme to secure approval in the East of England - following the earlier success of Bedford - and the first in East Anglia, with rivals Colchester and Norwich currently in the early stages of putting together BID proposals of their own.