A GROUP of businesses in Huntingdon are rallying together to oppose the town’s Business Improvement District (BID).

Businesses in the town centre have to pay a levy of 1.5 per cent of their business rates as part of a scheme that will raise more than £1million for investment in Huntingdon over the next five years.

The Hunts Post reported last week that the BID, which went live on November 9, will invest the money in four areas - making Huntingdon clean, safe and welcoming; marketing, events and promotions; business support; and access - as set out in the BID business plan.

But while Huntingdon BID says it has been set up to help businesses and increase footfall in the town, some firms believe they will not get a return on the money they pay each year into the BID pot.

Melanie Fowler, manager of the Samuel Pepys pub, in the High Street, said she was among the 19 per cent of businesses that voted no in the referendum that set up the BID earlier this year. She is organising a petition to have the yes vote overturned.

"I have spoken to 15 businesses so far and 14 of them are angry with the BID," Miss Fowler said. "When we look to make an investment, like an advert, we look to get a return for our investment but we can't see any returns from the BID for us, nor can other businesses.

"Why would we pay £700 and not get anything back? They want to employ three high street rangers which are hoped to increase footfall, but it doesn't encourage people to come down to our end of the High Street - they don't even put Christmas lights at our end.

"It will benefit the big businesses like Sainsbury's, whose manager is on the board, and Waitrose but it doesn't benefit small businesses."

Keith Hewitt, owner of Deavesons Jewellers, said that after initially saying no, he didn't receive a copy of the business plan so was not informed of the benefits. He said: "When we first learned about the BID, I said we should hold a meeting and have a discussion but it didn't happen, so we know nothing of the benefits."

BID project manager Katy Sismore said she and her team had meetings with businesses, had written to them and delivered business plans to everyone. There were also newsletters and business meetings.

"We put in an enormous amount of leg work to let people know about the BID," Mrs Sismore said. "If businesses wanted to vote no, then that was fine by me. We are not here to upset people, we are here to benefit businesses and would encourage people to get involved with the BID and find out how they can benefit."

Businesses were free to choose to vote for or against the BID, she added. "There was a 46 per cent turnout - much higher than the level for the police and crime commissioner - and we got 81 per cent supporting us.

"Lots of levy payers are already on the BID board, but there is space for five new people to join, so I would urge people to join."

INFORMATION: Full details of the BID plan can be found at www.bidhuntingdon.co.uk