Anger mounts against Hampstead Village businesses’ levy bills

View of the Hampstead Christmas Fair. Photo: Polly Hancock

View of the Hampstead Christmas Fair. Photo: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Anger against a new compulsory levy for Hampstead businesses spilled over this week with owners demanding “answers” after bills arrived through the post

Business owners in Hampstead Village have received letters charging them for membership of the Hampstead Village business improvement district (BID).

Solveig Hennes, who owns the Pharm salon in Heath Street, said: “Of course I am not happy about this – not least because no plan has been presented showing how funds raised from local businesses will be used. I don’t think a board has been appointed yet, which gives the impression that this is not an organised, well thought out venture.”

The BID is a non-profit limited company that collects a levy from 243 businesses in the area running from the top of Heath Street to Rosslyn Hill.

It was set up following a referendum in the summer and uses the money to improve shopping and trade in the village.

But many people are furious that, under the Business Improvement District Regulations (2004), they are not allowed to opt out of the BID, even if they voted against it or abstained.

Ms Hennes called it “outrageous” that Camden Council was acting as “debt collectors for this private company”.

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The council receives £12,000 a year for collecting the levy from businesses and can take enforcement action against those who fail to cough up the money.

The news about the bill follows the revelation last week in the Ham&High that the Hampstead Village Christmas festival – which the BID helped organise – had been called off. The BID said no one was available to take charge this year.

Dina Camera, who runs the greengrocers Artichoke in Heath Street, said: “Before they received the fee there was enough money for the festival, now there isn’t. It seems a bit ludicrous.

“The Christmas festival was a wonderful thing that happened – as is anything that brings people to the area.

“We will see whether the fee ends up being beneficial.”

The BID told the Ham&High there simply “isn’t a person” to run the festival this year.

Caroline Goldsack, chief executive of Hampstead Village BID, rejected accusations it had no plan, saying: “The BID does have a working team, based on members of the task group of businesses involved in the development of the BID proposal.

“We are now inviting levy-paying businesses to become voting members and directors of the company, in order that we can form a board which represents a variety of sectors and sizes of business.”

Ms Goldsack said the BID proposals had been set out in its business plan. The four key project areas identified in the initial consultation are:

- marketing and events

- improving the streetscene with things the council is not doing already

- parking

- business support.

She said: “Detailed decisions on initiatives to be delivered and associated financial commitments will be made by our board with reference to our membership.”

Cllr Theo Blackwell, cabinet member for finance, technology and growth at Camden Council, said: “I’d urge those still against this new initiative for the area to get involved and try it out.

“Business improvement districts have a track record of saving local businesses money by striking collective deals for energy, recycling and bulk.”