Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Plans to empower shop owners could breathe new life into shopping districts

BUSINESS improvement districts (BIDS) can "empower" a shopping area and lend its businesses a voice, a supporter of the schemes has said.

BIDS involve traders and business owners paying a charge in addition to rates to improve their surroundings and advertise their districts.

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland yesterday announced the appointment of external support to introduce BIDS around Northern Ireland.

He also attended a conference in Ballymena to mark 10 years of BIDS in the rest of the UK.

The town operates a voluntary BID in its centre – and Thomas McKillen, president of the Ballymena Chamber of Commerce and owner of a shoe shop in the town, said the system was beneficial.

"It empowers that area to make its own decisions and gives the real community a big say in how they are run. They have a voice.

"Ballymena is well ahead of the game as far as a BID is concerned. It adds value and brings footfall to a town. The more voices shout together, the more you get done."

Under the BID scheme, traders and business owners can work with councils to develop a plan for improvements which is costed and then put to a vote. If the vote is successful, each business involved in the BID area is then required to pay a levy for the five years of the plan.

Belfast city centre manager Andrew Irvine said it had been lobbying the government to legislate for BIDs.

"We look forward to working with the business community to explore the opportunities BIDS offer."

The Northern Ireland Executive has started the legislative and consultative process that could see BID legislation introduced.

But speaking earlier this year, retail entrepreneur Pete Boyle, who has 40 jewellery shops around the UK, said he was opposed to having a business improvement district in Belfast.