BUSINESSES in Sunderland city centre want to fight off competition from Tyneside and take more control over their future by setting up a Business Improvement District (BID).
A BID proposal, which was launched yesterday, could see businesses and organisations working together to spend more than £2.7m on improving the area to attract more shoppers over the next five years.
It would be financed through a 1.5% levy on business rates and is likely to include marketing the city centre as well as projects to ensure the area is more attractive.
The BID proposal, which was initiated by Sunderland Business Ltd, has been welcomed by city centre businesses.
Andy Bradley, chairman of the BID steering board and director of the Bridges Shopping Centre, said: “Businesses in the city centre are keen to attract more visitors and we need to do more to encourage people to stay longer and spend more while they are here.
“Our shops and businesses are facing increasing competition from Newcastle, Durham, the Metrocentre, retail parks and the ever-growing number of online retailers.
“We have too many empty shops and buildings and, while recent additions to The Bridges are very welcome, more has to be done to renew and revitalise the city centre.
“Newcastle is one of the most successful BID areas in the UK, spending £15m a year on attracting shoppers to the city centre. It’s the private sector putting their hands in their pockets and taking ownership of the city they’re proud of.
“For once we can stop moaning about what local government isn’t doing for our city centre and take matters into our own hands.”
If a business or organisation is located within the BID area, with a rateable value above £15,000, it can decide whether the Sunderland city centre BID should go ahead by voting in the ballot.
Voting papers will be sent to all eligible voters this summer, with four weeks to return the ballot.
If the BID does proceed, then all eligible businesses within the area will have to pay a levy for the next five years, and that levy will be 1.5% of the gross business rateable value.
Typically, a business worth £15,000 would pay £225 a year or £18.75 a month in business rates.
Bradley said: “If we get the yes vote then we’ll see some tangible changes by the autumn. Surprisingly, no one has been negative about it. A BID would help us create a safe and secure environment for people who are enjoying an evening out in our restaurants, clubs, theatre or cinema.”
A similar BID in Newcastle was launched in 2009 and has been welcomed by traders for bringing in schemes such as Pocket Parks of Green Space and the Alive after Five project, which saw many shops open until 8pm several nights a week.
Gary Hutchinson, chairman of Sunderland Business Ltd and also chairman of NECC Sunderland, said: “This year is Sunderland’s 21st anniversary of becoming a city and a yes vote for the BID would signal our coming of age and help the city centre fulfil its potential.”
Sunderland Business Ltd has created a BID steering board which has been consulting with city centre businesses, Sunderland City Traders’ Association, Sunderland City Council, MPs, Northumbria Police, Pubwatch, taxi drivers, street pastors, landlords, church representatives and the professional services sector.