A NORTHERN Ireland retail entrepreneur with 40 shops around the UK has said he is opposed to the introduction of a business improvement district (BID) in Belfast.
The plan would see businesses in the city centre pay extra for enhanced services such as additional street cleaning with the aim of making the city centre more attractive.
BIDs have already been introduced across the UK with the support of the UK government and now Northern Ireland has the required legislation to introduce them.
At a seminar yesterday businesses heard a presentation on how BIDs had worked in other parts of the UK. But Peter Boyle, the Strabane-born founder of jewellery chain Argento which has a large premises on Belfast's Royal Avenue, said he did not think the city would benefit.
"You are effectively asked to pay for services which you are currently receiving for free. Effectively the charge will be passed from the public sector to the private sector."
He said he had experienced the ups and downs of BIDs in cities like Edinburgh and Nottingham where his company has shops, but added: "Belfast is already one of the best cities in the UK. It is a well and actively marketed and managed city with good street-cleaning services and Christmas decoration services, and security is good.
"BIDs are attractive in cities where the council is not cleaning the streets or putting up good Christmas decorations, but Belfast city centre is already unbelievably well-run."
One way BIDs are funded is by an additional levy on business rates – but Mr Boyle said Belfast's rates were already too high.
Overall, the city centre had lacked the "buzz" it used to have, "and that's the real concern". Joe Jordan, president of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce and Trade, said the seminar had been "very informative".
But he said the chamber had issues with how a BID would be introduced, including the number of votes required to introduce a BID and how it would be funded.
"The more ambitious you are, the more expensive your bid could be and greater the levies on the business community."
Mr Jordan added: "I don't know if this is the time to do it. When a concept involves getting people to spend more money, that's quite difficult to do."
Number of shops retail entrepreneur Peter Boyle has in the UK