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The current economic situation has hit traditional British High Streets particularly hard. Town centres, which already faced competition from out-of-town developments and internet shopping, are now finding it increasingly difficult to attract inward investment in the face of lower consumer confidence. Sutton Coldfield is by no means immune from this trend but I believe that we can take action to prevent further economic erosion and I want to touch briefly on one proposal in this column.

Until recently there was no ‘voice for business’ in Sutton Coldfield. The Town Centre Partnership, formed in 2008, has since worked hard to develop itself into that voice, a ‘lean’ organisation bringing local businesses, Sutton’s Councillors and other stakeholders together for the benefit of our town centre. It is this body which has just completed developing a proposal for a Business Improvement District (BID).

The BID concept presents town centre businesses with a unique opportunity to generate at least £1 million in additional investment over the next five years. This money would be raised through an additional 1.5% levy on business rates for companies operating in our town centre with protections built in for smaller retailers. Next month, Sutton’s BID proposal will be presented to the town centre business community for ballot. If a ‘yes’ vote is returned, a BID company would be formed to manage the delivery of projects and services that respond directly to the needs and aspirations of the business community over and above those provided by the statutory agencies. Most importantly, it would provide the mechanism through which the town centre business network can engage with the wider community and public authorities. This will be of particular importance in any future planning negotiations.

The business community of Sutton Coldfield town centre has the opportunity to recognise the potential of this rare proposal and vote ‘yes’ in October. It is unlikely that such a chance will present itself again in the near future and if lost the town centre could fail to invest as it should in a cleaner and greener environment, in marketing and promotional activity, and in improving safety and security.

I am keen to see Sutton Coldfield strengthen its position in relation to neighbouring locations such as Solihull, Tamworth and Lichfield. A Business Improvement District will promote investment in the town, create a better environment for doing business and focus on delivering projects which individual businesses could not deliver on their own.

The High Street should be at the very heart of every community, bringing people together, providing essential services and creating jobs and investment. It is vital that we do all that we can to ensure that our town centre continues to thrive.

To find out more about the Sutton Coldfield BID visit www.suttoncoldfieldtowncentre.co.uk.

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