Angry town centre traders refuse to pay annual levy

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.”

Comments (7)

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8:55pm Mon 18 Feb 13

Alan Macnab says...

Town Centre traders are having a hard time as it is without being threatened in this way. It is absolutely disgraceful that traders who did not vote for this or did not vote at all are being taken to court for not paying the levy. The BID Manager needs to be reminded who she works for.
Town Centre traders are having a hard time as it is without being threatened in this way. It is absolutely disgraceful that traders who did not vote for this or did not vote at all are being taken to court for not paying the levy. The BID Manager needs to be reminded who she works for. Alan Macnab
  • Score: 4

7:08am Tue 19 Feb 13

judygone says...

Typical of this council yet again. Also another court case they might loose again. The rangers are a waste of money too.
Typical of this council yet again. Also another court case they might loose again. The rangers are a waste of money too. judygone
  • Score: 1

8:44am Tue 19 Feb 13

hardatwork says...

Yet another nail in the town-centre coffin. Do the powers-that-be not realise that town centres have been dessimated by online retailers and out of town shopping for years. For goodness sake, give them a break. You should be paying the town centre shops to keep them going. Open your eyes and look at how many retail units are EMPTY. Hello!! Talk about flogging a dying horse
Yet another nail in the town-centre coffin. Do the powers-that-be not realise that town centres have been dessimated by online retailers and out of town shopping for years. For goodness sake, give them a break. You should be paying the town centre shops to keep them going. Open your eyes and look at how many retail units are EMPTY. Hello!! Talk about flogging a dying horse hardatwork
  • Score: 0

8:48am Tue 19 Feb 13

Mike B. says...

I voted against the BID. I think it imposes an unfair burden on the profitability of small town centre traders, no-one knows who is on the Board (there has never been a vote to choose Board members) and I have yet to see any benefit at all.

However, I have paid my levy, which is far higher than those little shops in Duke Street and Grange Road have to pay and I object to these free-loaders who refuse to pay the levy. There was a vote on whether to set up the BID. I voted against, but the majority voted in favour. We may not like it, but that's democracy!
I voted against the BID. I think it imposes an unfair burden on the profitability of small town centre traders, no-one knows who is on the Board (there has never been a vote to choose Board members) and I have yet to see any benefit at all. However, I have paid my levy, which is far higher than those little shops in Duke Street and Grange Road have to pay and I object to these free-loaders who refuse to pay the levy. There was a vote on whether to set up the BID. I voted against, but the majority voted in favour. We may not like it, but that's democracy! Mike B.
  • Score: 0

10:39am Tue 19 Feb 13

Homshaw1 says...

Apparently the council had one vote for each of its premises in the town centre. Also the council choose the criteria for businesses that were to be included and who was to be on the committee. So prehaps its not democracy

Yes the rangers are a nonsense - you see them collecting rubbish a job that should be done by Streetscene. Other than that their contribution to the town centre is questionable

The whole scheme is a burden to hard pressed businesses and will lead to a further decline in the town centre

As for those that won't pay you haven't a leg to stand on. You have been stitched up
Apparently the council had one vote for each of its premises in the town centre. Also the council choose the criteria for businesses that were to be included and who was to be on the committee. So prehaps its not democracy Yes the rangers are a nonsense - you see them collecting rubbish a job that should be done by Streetscene. Other than that their contribution to the town centre is questionable The whole scheme is a burden to hard pressed businesses and will lead to a further decline in the town centre As for those that won't pay you haven't a leg to stand on. You have been stitched up Homshaw1
  • Score: 0

4:49pm Tue 19 Feb 13

Homshaw1 says...

She said: “I appreciate we are in difficult financial times and that is being felt by everyone”

Hardly true if you are a Bid Manager and have a nice little job with a guaranteed salary
She said: “I appreciate we are in difficult financial times and that is being felt by everyone” Hardly true if you are a Bid Manager and have a nice little job with a guaranteed salary Homshaw1
  • Score: 1

7:21pm Wed 20 Feb 13

DM1989 says...

DBC the council that WASTES money on speed bumps and traffic calming and penalises shops for being in the town centre and silly parking charges for shoppers. No wonder our town centre is useless.
DBC the council that WASTES money on speed bumps and traffic calming and penalises shops for being in the town centre and silly parking charges for shoppers. No wonder our town centre is useless. DM1989
  • Score: 0

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