Re-ballot regarding Ballymena Business Improvement District is set to be held before end of the year – councillor

A VOTE by businesses in Ballymena town centre on whether they want the area’s Business Improvement District (BID) to continue is set to be held before the end of the year, a councillor says.

Mid & East Antrim Borough Council was told a re-ballot of businesses regarding BID – which was due to have been held already this year – was postponed because of the coronavirus lockdown.

Now, a councillor says the re-ballot is set to be held before the end of the year.

The information came as councillors were told the Department for Communities has given funding to a number of BID initiatives in Northern Ireland including Ballymena.

It was part of a wider package of measures aimed at supporting city and town centres as they recover from Covid-19.

A report prepared for Mid & East Antrim councillors showed that £24,000 was awarded by the Department to Ballymena BID to ‘help cover their operating costs for a period of time to protect them from insolvency and to allow them to play their full part in the area’s economic recovery’.

Ballymena DUP councillor Audrey Wales told a council meeting in Ballymena: “Delighted to see the Department giving some financial support to BID. Ballymena, which was Northern Ireland’s first BID, was due to have its re-ballot in May this year but with Covid-19 this of course was unable to happen.

“This amount will allow them to carry on adding value to the businesses in Ballymena before their new re-ballot date in December.”

Alderman Wales proposed that the Council agreed with the cash injection and it was backed by councillors.

Cllr Eugene Reid (SDLP, Ballymena) said the Ballymena BID had done a “fantastic job to date of trying to improve business and the environs within the retail sector especially in Ballymena and any funding would be of huge importance to them and I am very very happy to second this proposal.”

Cllr Timothy Gaston (TUV, Bannside) sought assurance from the Council that the money would be “spent in its entirety on the businesses in Ballymena and wont be used to promote the re-bid.”

He added: “That should be something that is left to each and every individual business in the town and this money should be going into the heart of regenerating Ballymena town centre and helping the recovery of Covid-19.”

Council Chief Executive Anne Donaghy said the funding was part of the Stormont Executive’s £300,000 support of all of the BIDs in Northern Ireland and the £24,000 was the percentage Ballymena was getting.

She added: “That is to do with their running costs and to do with operating costs so I can’t give you that assurance Cllr Gaston because that is not what it was for. It is for them to run the BID in the absence of lifting the levy.”

In a latter statement, Kathleen McBride, BID Manager, expressed her appreciation to DfC for the grant.

She said: “Such funding is vital to ensure town centre businesses are assisted during this recovery period.

“Ballymena businesses continue to slowly come out of lockdown and footfall figures indicate a weekly increase.

“More than ever it is important that shoppers feel safe to return to the town centre and support local businesses.”

Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are business-led partnerships that agree by ballot to pay an extra levy on their business rates based on their rateable value to fund activities, services and improvements that will benefit the businesses and the place in which they operate. The agreement is for a maximum period of five years.

The ballot needs to see a majority of businesses in the area supporting the BID. Providing the necessary majorities are obtained, then all businesses in the area who were eligible to vote, have to pay the levy for the period the BID is in existence.

There are now over 300 across the UK. A BID is established by a ballot of businesses in the defined BID area and is managed by a representative board of local business owners.

Each BID term lasts for five-years and must then go to re-ballot, giving businesses the opportunity to vote for or against a further term. Therefore the success or failure of BID operations are judged at re-ballot.

In June, Stormont Communities Minister Carál Ní Chuilín confirmed she is allocating £300,000 to Business Improvement Districts (BIDS).

A Stormont press release said funding would ensure that the eight BIDs operating here (3 across Belfast City Centre, with one each in Ballymena, Enniskillen, Strabane, Coleraine and Newry) can continue to play a key role in bringing local businesses and other stakeholders together to help regenerate their areas and to improve their local trading environment.

BIDs are developed, managed and paid for by the business sector by means of a compulsory BID levy.

Minister Ní Chuilín said: “These local partnerships have a proven track record of success in supporting local businesses, providing strong leadership, and driving forward the renewal and regeneration of our town and city centres. Their role will be even more important in the weeks and months ahead.

“I recognise that the ability of some businesses to pay their compulsory BID levy will be severely hampered by the challenging environment they have faced.

“This funding will help with the operational costs of each BID so they can carry on their vital work of supporting their businesses as we move into the critical recovery phase from the current crisis.”

The announcement follows Minister Hargey recently writing to Councils to explore how the Department can further assist town and city centres in their recovery. This included offering use of Departmental owned assets and public spaces where this will be helpful to businesses and to outline the Minister’s intention to develop a Capital COVID-19 Recovery Revitalisation Scheme to fund works that will aid in the recovery of towns and cities.

BIDs have been in place in Northern Ireland since 2015 providing strong support to businesses and town and city centres, the Stormont press release said.

There are currently 8 BIDs in operation, 3 in Belfast (Belfast One, Cathedral Quarter and Linen Quarter) and one each in Newry, Ballymena, Strabane, Coleraine and Enniskillen.

The support fund will be distributed to local Councils to be passed on to BIDs, and will help with their operational costs.

A Business Improvement District (BID) is a mechanism that has been recognised as being successful in bringing local businesses and other stakeholders together with the aim of regenerating their areas and improving their local trading environment.

BIDs are developed, managed and paid for by the business sector by means of a compulsory BID levy which the non-domestic ratepayers within the proposed BID area must vote in favour of before the BID can be established.

The Department for Communities takes the lead in promoting and supporting the development of BIDs as a key component of its commitment to help strengthen the competitiveness of our towns and cities.

In March, the Department for Communities took steps to amend the legislation to allow a BID to extend their BID arrangements until 31 March 2021 thus delaying any BID ballots due this year.

The press release said that will allow businesses space to focus on coping with the economic shock and getting back operational, before being asked to decide whether to participate in BID arrangements for the following 5-year period.

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