Huntingdon could get �250,000 a year to improve the town centre

HUNTINGDON could get an annual pot of money of up to �250,000 to spend on improvements, marketing, crime prevention, street wardens – and just about anything that businesses believe will improve the town centre.

The money could become available through a Business Improvement District (BID) scheme, paying for services above and beyond those supplied by local authorities and initiatives aimed at improving the centre of Huntingdon and attracting more people to use the shops, services and businesses.

The drawback? The businesses included in the BID area would have to fund it. Every central Huntingdon business – from dentists and retailers, to hairdressers, supermarkets and solicitors, would have to pay their share into the pot.

BIDs have been set up around the country – Bedford was one of the first, starting in 2005 – and there were about 140 at last count. Bedford’s BID has already run for a five-year period and the town agreed in 2010 to run the BID for a second five-year period.

Huntingdon businesses were being visited by Katy Sismore, the town partnership manager and BID project manager, to highlight the benefits. The exact details and business plan, however, have not yet been completed as businesses – possibly about 350 in total – would have an input into what should be made priority areas.

The business plan will be ready in July and businesses will be given the chance to vote for or against setting up the BID. A no will kill the plan, at least for now. A yes (which will need at least 51 per cent of the vote and that those who voted in favour of the scheme represent more than 50 per cent of the rateable value of the votes cast) will see a company set up to administer the BID.

Mrs Sismore said the BID would allow Huntingdon to operate at a higher level, provide real funding where there had been little to invest in projects and would provide businesses with savings. But it would not pay for anything which “you already pay business rates for”.

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The Bedford concept which Mrs Sismore would like to see in Huntingdon is the Blue Caps scheme – the equivalent of town centre wardens. They provide information for visitors, are first aid trained, arrange removal of graffiti, stop people riding bikes on paths, and provide support to police.

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What would it cost?

The scheme can funded in various ways, the most popular being a levy based on businesses rates.

In Bedford the rate was 2 per cent (Huntingdon was looking at 1 or 1.5 per cent). The Bedford business plan states that contributions are estimated to cost:

l A small/office �200 a year (rateable value �10,000)

l A medium shop/office �500 a year (rateable value �25,000)

l A large shop/office �2,000 a year (rateable value �100,000)

It adds that more than 65 per cent of businesses pay less than �1 a day