Lowestoft firms at loggerheads over business improvement district

Lowestoft. Picture Nick Butcher

Lowestoft. Picture Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

More than 60 businesses have signed a petition opposing the Lowestoft Vision scheme, which was set up in 2013 to improve town centre trade.

Opponents are calling for the Business Improvement District (BID) scheme’s annual compulsory charge to be dropped and say they have not seen any benefits since it was launched.

It comes as a number of businesses have been summoned to appear in court for non payment of the levy, which is added on to business rates bills.

However, Darren Newman, Lowestoft Vision BID manager, said the organisation had already completed a number of successful projects and more were in the pipeline.

Lowestoft Vision was set up following a “yes” vote by town centre businesses, which also saw a number of people oppose the scheme or abstain from voting.

The petition states that the charge paid to Lowestoft Vision is unjust, the scheme was set up in an undemocratic way and it is unfair to ask businesses to pay the charge if they did not vote to be part of it in the first place.

It is being led by Hugh Meadows, of Frank Coleby Sports in London Road North, who is among about 20 business owners due in court next week.

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Mr Meadows said: “I have been round a number of businesses and everybody is against it.

“Some people are paying up to £1,800 a year for this service and they are getting nothing for it.”

Mr Meadows said the Lowestoft Vision scheme took in businesses in Whapload Road, which saw little benefit from town centre initiatives.

He added: “People are up in arms about this tax and we want something to be done about it.”

Frank Moore, owner of F W Knights in London Road North, has paid the levy but has signed the petition objecting to the charge.

He said: “They need to show what they have done for our money and what they are going to do.”

Peter Cook, owner of Cooks furnishers in London Road North, has also paid the levy and signed the petition.

He said: “We don’t seem to see much change here. We seem to be the forgotten part of the shopping precinct but we have to pay otherwise we will get a summons and we don’t want that.

“Even the Christmas lights stop at the Milton Road and don’t start again until the High Street.”

Dan Bogan, who owns Oregano in London Road North with his wife Claire, said he had paid the charge but signed the petition.

He said: “We have only recently taken over the business and didn’t know anything about the BID. I didn’t get a vote and the first thing I heard about it was when I got a bill. I

agree we do need to do something but I am not happy with the communication.”

However, Mrs Bogan said she had not signed the petition and was supportive of Lowestoft Vision.

She added: “I agree with Lowestoft Vision as long as they do what they say they are going to do and listen to the people of Lowestoft.

“I don’t think the petition is going to do anything. If you have got grievances you need to go to meetings and talk to people and do it that way.”

Mr Newman said strict practices had to be followed before Lowestoft Vision could be set up.

He said every business involved was sent information and a voting form and there was significant media coverage of the process.

He added: “People from outside the town have been really impressed at some of the things we have been able to do towards reducing vacancy rates and increasing footfall.

“The turtle trail was a great success and we have got a massive Halloween events programme and a programme working towards Christmas.

“There are floral displays throughout the town and we have got the street ambassadors.

“None of theses things will happen if Lowestoft Vision wasn’t there.”