Despite much coaxing and cajoling by the Business Forum, traders in Brighton have resolutely refused to fund communal Christmas lights this year. Could Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) be the answer?
The Christmas 2004 campaign in Brighton started in January with a review meeting and the first request for money went out in May. Despite being followed up by a further letter in June and an increasingly urgent request in August just 79 businesses out of nearly 700 promised to contribute a total of just over £17,000. Even with an £18,000 contribution from the local authority this didn’t come close to financing a display. In The Lanes and North Laine alone that would have needed £60,000 every year for the next three years. Much of the existing lighting display is five years old and past its sell-by date. Brighton needs to move towards modern, purpose-made, cross-street displays that are easy to install and relatively trouble free. Over 70% of the cost of lighting in previous years has been for erection and removal. Cross street displays are expensive to purchase (hence spreading the expense over three years) but cheap and quick to put up and take down.
The people who benefit most from Christmas lights are retailers but many are reluctant to pay unless everyone pays. It is almost impossible to remove the “free-rider” element of funding projects like this. Those that don’t pay will get lights anyway. But not this year.
A Business Improvement District based on Christmas lights would compel even the free-riders to pay if a referendum showed a majority in favour (see knowledgebase for explanation of BIDs). Unfortunately although the legislation to allow BIDs was given Royal Assent a couple of years ago the regulations have only just been finalised, which means it is too late for 2004. Also, because a BID requires the lengthy process of a full referendum before it can be levied and is then collected as part of the Uniform Business Rate (UBR), it may not be possible to organise for 2005 either. Two years without lights might concentrate the minds of those businesses that assumed they would get lights anyway without paying.
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