Northampton town centre could have ‘personal shoppers’ to give advice under new scheme

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A ONE per cent levy on business rates for firms in Northampton could help fund the introduction of “town centre hosts” . . . paid employees who walk around busy shopping streets giving advice to shoppers.

The proposals are part of the plan to introduce a Business Improvement District (BID) to Northampton, as revealed in yesterday’s Chronicle & Echo.

The BID would see a total of 520 firms pay a one per cent levy on top of their annual business rates to create an annual cash pot of £450,000 to spend on improving the town centre.

Other investments which have been earmarked so far include street washers to work alongside the existing street cleaning teams employed by Northampton Borough Council.

Chairman of the project, Stephen Chown, said: “This is by businesses for businesses, we are all on the same side here and if we succeed we will make the town a better place. We are looking at making changes to the town to improve it for employees and visitors.”

The BID scheme is set to run for five years and would bring in £2million of investment.

The scheme would be the latest effort to overhaul the town centre, following the investment earlier in the year which saw the Market Square revamped and dozens of hanging baskets and floral displays installed alongside the popular Pride of Northampton lions.

But it has emerged that a similar scheme launched in Coventry ended in farce when the body running the project was wound up in the wake of a mass “Axe the Tax” protest, which saw hundreds of recession-struck small firms hauled before magistrates for refusing to pay the levy.

David Williams, a Northampton-based businessman who owned a total of 15 properties which fell under the Coventry BID scheme, said: “It was a total and utter disaster. Businesses hated it. At one meeting the people behind it were nearly lynched.

“There were hundreds of businesses struggling in the grip of a recession and then they were asked to pay an extra levy on top. For some, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Despite the concerns, other BIDs in other parts of the country have been a success, with a similar scheme on Brackmills industrial estate highlighted as being a prime example of a well-run project. The proposals will go out to public consultation next month.