DEFIANT traders are facing court action over their refusal to pay a town centre levy they say has been unfairly imposed.
The annual charge was introduced when Darlington became a Business Improvement District (BID) last summer but some traders who did not vote for the scheme are now being taken to court by Darlington Council because they won’t pay up.
The levy funds initiatives such as the town centre rangers and when the BID proposal was put to a vote last year, 550 ballot papers were sent out and 210 were returned with 130 votes in favour of it.
Alex Swan, BID manager, says that 90 per cent of traders have paid their bill and that it was made clear in open consultation last Spring that if a majority ‘yes’ vote was achieved, all town centre businesses would have to pay.
Malcolm Royal, of the It's All About The Bag shop and cafe in Queen Street said emotions are now running high amongst some owners of smaller independent businesses who are angry that they are paying a levy for services they feel the council should be providing.
He said: “It is not fair, especially for the smaller traders who didn’t vote for it and already pay thousands of pounds in rates every year.”
The levy is charged at 1.5 per cent of the rateable value of the property, so the annual bill depends on the size and situation of the premises.
Les Heads, of Crombie’s Restaurant on Tubwell Row, said he was not aware of the BID vote and had no idea that he should have paid a levy until he received a letter summoning him to appear at Darlington Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday for non-payment of his £120 bill.
He said he would fight the issue “all the way”.
Kate Saint, who has run her K Saint womenswear shop on Grange Road since 1996, also plans to stand firm in her refusal to pay the levy.
She said: “High street shops are struggling to survive as it is and I just feel like putting up the sale signs and closing down.”
BID manager Miss Swan pointed out the benefits the scheme has brought to the town, including the ice rink at Christmas and sponsorship of the Town Centre Retail Awards.
She said: “I appreciate we are in difficult financial times and that is being felt by everyone, but guaranteed investment in our town centre over the next five years can only be positive and will encourage more people to realise what a great town centre Darlington is.”