Colchester businesses vote to form a united front to stem the tide of empty shopfronts

Colchester High Street. Picture: Jessica Hill

Colchester High Street. Picture: Jessica Hill - Credit: Archant

Colchester businesses have voted in favour of uniting to form a platform aimed at rejuventating their town centre.

After a year of difficult trading conditions which has led to many empty shopfronts, particularly in the Priory Walk area of Colchester, traders have thrown their support behind forming a five-year Business Improvement District (BID) to attract more people into town.

After a month-long ballot, 142 out of 168 businesses who voted (85%) supported the BID proposal, from a 36% turnout.

The BID’s business plan will tackle issues sounded out by local businesses, which include anti-social behaviour, improved streetscape, marketing and accessibility.

But how they will go about implementing these improvements remains yet to be seen.

“Its now down to the steering group and board of directors to decide the priorities,” explained Michelle Reynolds, chairman of Colchester Retail and Business Association, CoRBA. “Its time to knuckle down and work together for the benefit of our town”.

Bryan Johnston who is a partner in the law firm Goody Burrett and is on Colchester BID steering group, says he hopes Colchester’s BID will lead to a “cleaner, greener town.” “People’s habits have changed, they spend a lot of time these days on the internet. Here’s a chance for them to come into Colchester as a destination. They can enjoy a good meal, good shopping and a great evening out - we’re putting Colchester on the map.”

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Chair of Our Colchester BID Steering Group Carl Milton said he was “absolutely delighted” at the news. “Its been four years in the making, and the last two years in Colchester spent formulating the plan. To be standing here and hearing the ‘yes’ vote is overwhelming for us as a team. Shoppers can now expect a galvanised town centre, a unitied town centre, and certainly for the first term of the BID, some major improvements in the town centre.”

There are now nearly 300 BIDs representing urban centres across the UK, including in Ipswich, Bury Saint Edmunds, Lowestoft, Southend and Chelmsford, and each has chosen to implement different measures depending on their individual concerns.

Not all traders in Colchester agree on what the BID’s priorities should be. “I just hope that the first thing they do isn’t to build a website,” said Sarah Donaldson, whose husband Peter Donaldson runs Red Lion Bookstore on Colchester High Street. “I want real, practical actions, not online waffle. Whenever there’s a community event held in the town centre, its bustling with people - that’s what we need more of.”

The Colchester BID vote led to disagreements in the Donaldson household, as Mr Donaldson voted in favour of BID, whilst his wife was opposed to it.

Judith Naylor, who owns the design-led gift shop Eclettico, on Trinity Street, said she thinks that businesses in the centre all working together can only be a good thing. “The increased publicity is going to be great for everyone,” she said. “We are really pleased to hear there is going to be a group for us indies to get our views heard.”

The Our Colchester BID Steering Group – which has been leading the proposed BID – will stay in place until the BID Board and BID Advisory Group are formed and fully operational, which will be by October. Each sector will be represented to ensure the BID is a collaborative voice.