Chairman of Hexham BID Janine Armstrong with BID manager Helen Grayshan.
DOZENS of business owners were due in court on Thursday after refusing to pay their share of a levy to the Hexham Business Improvement District.
Northumberland County Council issued 150 businesses with summonses, equating to around £15,000 of outstanding levy funds and says many of the bills have now been paid.
However, some traders feel withholding payment is one of the few ways left to protest against the initiative, which was introduced in September with the aim of supporting growth within the town’s business community.
Many business owners have questioned the validity of the ballot, which was the subject of an investigation by Secretary of State Sajid Javid last year.
And, despite him declaring the vote should be upheld, some maintain they were told they didn’t have the right to a vote, while others say they didn’t receive the voting packs distributed.
“I have seven different units and only received voting packs for three of them,” explained Geoff Hubbuck, of J.S. Hubbuck.
“In the end I had to take a decision on whether to go against the law and not pay the levy, or remain a law-abiding business.
“And I think there’s no choice but to be a law abiding business so I have now paid.
“But I have no doubt that if they did the ballot all over again now it would fail.”
Peter Macklam, managing director of Northumbria Leisure, expressed his disappointment at being charged a levy for a lock-up he only uses for storage. With five small units used by the business, his annual levy amounts to £1,000.
“I received a summons and paid on Tuesday morning, but I can see no benefit in this whatsoever for the business,” he said.
But chairman of the BID board, Janine Armstrong, said the BID had the overwhelming support of businesses across the whole town.
“We’ve spent our first six months laying the foundations for the next four years and the benefits of the BID are about to start to flow through,” she said.
Working in partnership with Hexham Town Council, the BID board has agreed to an increase in the town’s annual Christmas lights by investing £28,000 over four years in funding an extension of the lights from beyond The Sele and Beaumont Street into the town’s surrounding streets.
BID funding has already doubled the print run for the Visit Hexham leaflet and will be paying for enhanced cleaning starting next month, Mrs Armstrong added.
“We are going to test the waters for a new Sunday market this summer, and we’ve commissioned a study to review signage to the town, starting with the gateways and industrial areas.”