CLASHING views over the proposed Business Improvement District (BID) has led to the topic quipped as becoming “more contentious than Brexit”.

In an Andover Town Council meeting last night (Thursday) members were recommended to side with the BID and call businesses to vote in favour of the five-year scheme, but in light of business owners’ concerns over several aspects of how it has been handled, councillors have decided to stay a neutral party.

Test Valley Models owner Graham Walters pushed the case as a public speaker, urging councillors not to back the BID and telling them a “no campaign” made up of independent businesses will begin ahead of the voting period starting October 12.

Mr Walters said: “I moved into the Chantry Centre in June this year I have had no communication at all about the BID.

“With the levy being imposed, some of us can’t afford it, some of us can, we question the boundary and how it has been drawn to include some but not others.

“There is going to be a no campaign started by businesses in the town, we feel the steering group hasn’t followed due process.

“We are saying this is a mess, we are suggesting you don’t back it, it doesn’t stand up. Several owners have threatened to pull out of the town if this BID goes through.”

READ: Business owners walk out of 'aggressive' final BID meeting

While councillors were largely in agreement they supported the principle of a BID, debate was heard about how the Andover BID has been handled so far.

Councillor Andy Fitchet said: “In principle I do agree with the BID, extra money does seem like a good idea.

“To businesses, this is more contentious than Brexit. I wonder how well the consultation has been done. There are a significant amount of businesses saying the same thing.”

Councillor Richard Rowles also highlighted “seven out of 10” proposals which came out of the BID survey are already being done by the town or borough council, such as putting on events.

Councillor Steven Hardstaff added: “I would feel, being an ex-retailer on the high street myself, shops in the shopping centre being asked to pay a 1.5 per cent levy very unfair, they already pay double business rates. I don’t think it is fair it should be reported back.”

Member Luigi Gregori however also pointed out a BID would give businesses a chance to take the lead and be another group to “bang their head against the Test Valley Borough Council wall.”

He added: “Andover doesn’t get a good deal.”

BID representatives have been liaising with town councillor Len Gates who fed back to the meeting in support of their efforts, and Councillor Gates said the BID, and consultancy firm CMS who has been responsible for the communications with businesses, have done “all they can” to explain.

He reminded members BIDs were not a “radical” new idea, with schemes set up in surrounding Basingstoke, Salisbury, Winchester, Newbury, Fleet and Southampton.

He said: “People ask what have they got that we haven’t got? Well one thing is the BID.”

There are around 300 BIDs in operation across the country, and reportedly sees a 90 per cent success rate in businesses deciding to renew the scheme at the end of the initial five-year term.

In response to news of the no campaign, Andover BID chair Lisa Armstrong said: "As I voiced at the event on Tuesday, all businesses who are in the town centre have a right to voice their opinions regarding the BID proposal. 

"The BID is proposed to enhance the opportunity in the town and the recent questionnaire showed that many businesses were excited about improving the perception of the town centre to a new level. 

"If business owners feel strongly that they need to set up an anti-BID campaign, then they are well within their rights to do so."     

Earlier on Thursday, business owners met at Butters Café to discuss taking forward a campaign called Andover Businesses Unite, against the BID.

A questionnaire for businesses is being circulated to determine the level of support and understanding of the Andover scheme.

To find out more search ‘Andover Businesses Unite’ on Facebook.