Hampstead BID: Traders resigned to paying unpopular levy after pub owner’s defeat in court
- Credit: Archant
It was the morning after the court hearing before. The shops and cafés of Hampstead began to come to life, the day after fellow trader Jimmy McGrath had lost his court battle with Camden Council over the compulsory BID levy.
The feeling among business owners was one of bitter resignation. When the Ham&High spoke to them, long-standing antique dealer Keith Fawkes, and his colleague Matt Townsendwere putting out their fare and getting ready for a day's trading in Flask Walk.
They were both unsurprised at the judgment against the King William IV landlord, who had refused to pay the compulsory levy.
"I don't like paying it at all," said Keith, who has had his antiques and bookshop in Flask Walk for five decades.
"I don't know what we have seen for the money we've paid so far. Some window baskets? That used to be the case when we had the NW3 Hampstead association."
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Mr Fawkes pays £3,200 a month in business rates and extra for outside trading. "That's before you pay anything else," he said.
Mr Townsend, who used to run his own antiques shop in Queen's Crescent, claimed: "There's no evidence of the money being spent. There's no value in it."
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Both thought the decision at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court on Monday made people less likely to challenge the BID.
District judge Julia Newton ruled McGrath has to pay nearly £7,000 for the outstanding levy and Camden Council's legal fees.
She had agreed with his barrister, Robert Griffiths QC, that the original bill sent to McGrath at the pub in Hampstead High Street was invalid.
It did not contain information about BID spending and future plans, as it needed to according to law. Instead, it directed the publican to the BID's website, which he had not given as his preferred method of communication.
Despite conceding those two points, she said the 80-year-old still had to pay up.
"If he can't win and he has the former head of chambers of 4-5 Gray's Inn Square and Mondial Chambers, then what chance do we have? He was doing it on pro bono as well," said Mr Fawkes. "The last thing I want is a long legal battle with Camden Council."
The feeling was similar as the shutters came up across the village at clothes shop Linea.
Moreno Ferraro, who has been in Heath Street since 1991, said he was against the levy but didn't have any choice but to pay it. In a 2016 referendum, the BID was voted for by 60 per cent of traders, with turnout a little short of 50pc - 73 of a possible 243 eligible to have their say wanted it.
He said: "It's the law. If I have to pay it, I have to pay it. But I have always been against it. They do nothing, ever since it started."
Between his two shops, which sit opposite each other in one of Hampstead's main shopping streets, Moreno pays £1,400 a year. "Over five years, it's a lot of money," he said. He continued: "The BID brings in a quarter of a million pounds a year. Where does it go?"
Judy Green, who runs a flower shop in Flask Walk, said she had originally voted for it, but she might not do the same at the next vote in 2021.
"Everybody has mixed feelings about it," she said. "They feel they are paying for things they don't tend to need very much.
"I voted for it because I thought: 'Well, if they are trying to do something for Hampstead, maybe I should be inclusive.' But now I'm not sure I feel the same way."
In the BID's annual review booklet, last year its main outlays were on the Christmas and summer festivals, and Christmas lights, a total of £93,637. The BID manager's salary was just over £50,000.
There is also a £50,000 surplus sitting in the bank.
All businesses in Hampstead have to pay the levy, as well as schools, charity shops and GP surgeries.
Marcos Gold, who took over the BID in February, said this was because of decisions made when the BID was set up, and would be reviewed ahead of 2021. He said he believed businesses would feel value for money by the time of the ballot.
The 28-year-old said he also believes the surplus will have to be spent before 2021, as the BID is not-for-profit.
"Councils don't have the same money to spend as they used to, so we are now providing some of those services, such as street cleaning," Marcos said.
"I was at a meeting the other night, and saw all of these different groups for residents but I was the only one representing businesses. All of the decisions I take, I consult businesses in the area and follow what they want us to do. It just needs to be communicated better what we're doing, and taking them on that journey."