Businesses get say on development

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More than 600 businesses in Sheffield city centre are to be balloted early next year over whether they are prepared to make a financial contribution to make the area more attractive and successful.

Plans to create a Business Improvement District to generate more than £800,000 a year over five years for initiatives to add vibrancy to the city centre are expected to overcome another hurdle next week with the council throwing its weight behind the project.

But the crunch will come, probably in February, when retailers, office, leisure businesses and other companies in the city centre with a rateable value over £30,000 will be asked about paying a levy of 1% of their rateable value. The date of the ballot has slipped slightly.

A vote of at least 51% would trigger the creation of a BID company, led by the private sector, which would decide priorities. They could include subsidised parking, late night street cleaning, more marketing and extra events to attract visitors. A prospectus as a basis for feedback will be launched next month.

Already a A BID ‘champion’ group has been set up including representatives of retail, office and leisure sectors, the city’s two universities and the council.

Chair James Prince, managing director of Sheffield’s John Lewis store, said: “The Sheffield BID is about businesses in the city centre working together to make Sheffield a better place to visit, work and live, and delivering this through close working collaboration between the public and private sector.

“I have 500 people working in John Lewis and a very loyal customer base, and everyone talks to me about the fact that they want to see an improvement in the city centre.

“They want to see more events, more cultural activities, they want to see us join up the daytime and night time economies and they want to see new cinemas, better hotels and more restaurants. The Sheffield BID is our chance to make this happen.”

The council is being asked to run the ballot, to formally accept a seat on the BID company and to take any appropriate steps to get the initiative up and running.

In a report to the cabinet on Wednesday, head of city centre management Richard Eyre says: “Business Improvement Districts are a tried and tested way of supporting successful and vibrant city centres and are already operational in other major cities such as Manchester, Liverpool, London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Newcastle and Hull. There are currently over 170 BIDs operating across the UK.”

By law a BID cannot be used to replace core public sector services.

Already Sheffield is using the model to improve flood defences in the Lower Don Valley.