Hampstead Village BID: Pub landlord’s appeal against paying controversial levy dismissed in High Court

King William IV landlord Jimmy McGrath with barrister Robert Griffiths QC. Picture: Sam Volpe

King William IV landlord Jimmy McGrath with barrister Robert Griffiths QC. Picture: Sam Volpe - Credit: Archant

Two High Court judges have dismissed a Hampstead landlord’s appeal against paying the area’s controversial Business Improvement District (BID) levy.

Jimmy McGrath, who runs the King William IV pub, remains therefore liable to pay the BID levy.

Lord Jusice Davis and Mr Justice Holgate found in favour of Camden Council, who collect the BID levy on behalf of the BID itself, and upheld the decision of district judge Julia Newton.

At magistates' court the liablity order - what he will need to pay - calculated the figure was around £6,900.

The judges on February 24 found that although - as the council do not dispute - a "mistake" was made in serving the demand notice which tells the business-owner to pay up, but that even so this "would be incapable of rendering a demand notice invalid".

In a written ruling, the judges found the BID regulations "only deal with information that must be provided when a demand notice is served" and do "not require that information to be contained within the notice".

This was a point of contention as, oral argument at the court hearing on January 28 had turned on a technical point of law, whether the regulations' wording meant information about the BID's finances needed to part of the demand notice, or simply supplied with it.

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For Mr McGrath, Robert Griffiths QC argued the former, but both judges disagreed.

Lord Justice Davis wrote a separate addtional opinion. He said: "It is plain enough that the introduction of the BID in Hampstead Village has not proved popular in a number of quarters; and the appellant [Mr McGrath] is obviously one of those aggrieved at its introduction. But it is not for the court to pronounce on the merits (or otherwise) of the scheme; and these proceedings cannot be used as a proxy for criticising it."

In April last year, district judge Julia Newton ruled that Mr McGrath had to pay the bill as Camden Council had issued a replacement bill with the right information months later.

Lord Justice Davis continued by paying tribute to the district judge and "the thoroughness of her judgment". He said: "I can see no error in her conclusion."

The judge went on: "No doubt the council did misunderstand the effect of the 2004 regulations, with regard to the supply of information. But it was not deliberate."

Mr McGrath told this newspaper he was "disappointed" and would be discussing his next move with Mr Griffiths.

Camden Council's finance chief Cllr Richard Olszewski said: "We are pleased that the High Court has chosen to uphold the decision taken earlier last year in favour of the Council's billing of Mr McGrath and his requirement to pay the BID levy.

"Businesses are under a legal obligation to pay the BID levy and the operators in Camden have a track record of saving local businesses money by, for example, striking collective deals for energy and recycling services."

Hampstead Village BID co-chairs Philip Matthews and Els Bauer said: "We are pleased the High Court has endorsed the earlier finding of Highbury Magistrates Court last April.

"We are hard at work delivering for the businesses of Hampstead, listening to concerns, supporting growth and championing our members' priorities. We are committed to delivering against the mandate set at the BID ballot - to support local businesses and help Hampstead Village to thrive."

But the Hampstead locals fervently opposed to the BID added their dismay. Sebastian Wocker said: ""James McGrath neither requested, nor agreed to, the services of Hampstead Village BID Ltd. It is a travesty that he or any business, charity or school be forced to pay for something they never agreed to."

Camilla Delmaestor, who runs a High Street shop and is secretary of the Hampstead BID Abolishment Campaign added: "It is incredibly sad that this man is now in this predicament after quite righteously defending a seriously flawed demand for a service that is not being provided.

"It still doesn't mean the BID is justified or performing under their mandate. We are still waiting for the next election in 2021, by when we hope to have raised enough awareness that they will be voted out."