Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Voting Starts in BID to Improve Town; Business Owners Weigh Up Costs and Potential Benefits

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Voting Starts in BID to Improve Town; Business Owners Weigh Up Costs and Potential Benefits

Article excerpt

Byline: Kelley Price Reporter

TRADERS voting in key improvements for Stockton can bring a massive business boost to the town - for the price of a Mars bar or cup of coffee a day, say campaigners.

The number of empty shops in Stockton town centre is "ridiculous", claims Chris Kolek, yet businesses have got the "future of the town in their hands".

But some are "sleepwalking", the regeneration expert warns, as Stockton declines and fails to live up to its enormous potential.

The Stockton BID (Business Improvement District) co-ordinator is asking 400 businesses to get behind proposals to breathe new life into the town - by voting in key proposals in a ballot that runs from Friday to May 19.

Empty units, the town's "after 5pm" evening economy, low footfall - and making Stockton easier and cheaper to visit - are all crunch points for traders.

If it's voted in, the Stockton BID will tackle the decline in return for a small yearly levy from each business - but there are concerns there could be some misunderstanding among traders of how much it will cost them.

Chris said: "One lady who owns a business thought she would have to pay PS2,000 towards the scheme, it's actually more like PS112 a year.

Financially, there's no reason not to do it.

"This misunderstanding could be the difference between people voting 'yes' or 'no.'.

* If businesses vote 'ye',' Stockton traders on the High Street, riverside and surrounding areas will join town and cities including Newcastle, Hull, Sunderland and Darlington who have all become BIDs. Chris, who is Stockton BID'S coordinator, has worked on regenerating market towns for the last 20 years including Penrith, Kendall and Ulverston and - currently - Barrow in Furness.

"The number of empty units in Stockton is ridiculous," he said, it's the worst I've seen anywhere.

"The BID aims to do something about it.

"Stockton needs a boost, it needs pump-priming - to give everybody a lift and drag in more investment, and customers will come.

"This has come from businesses themselves. They have set out their priorities from marketing and promotion to making Stockton more accessible and cheaper to visit, parking to be made easier, the retail offer more competitive, right through to the evening economy; bars, restaurants, take-aways.

"The potential is huge and it's incredibly frustrating to see it not being realised.

"The BID could kickstart it, bring the town back to life. We see it when events are on, but they're too infrequent.

"There is no question the town is in decline, which is absurd given the infrastructure here; a big, wide high street that's well paved and well looked after, fabulous little yards and links to the riverside, which is also an under-used resource. …

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